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Starting from Square One

The intricate behaviors of quarks may finally yield to calculation

10:16am, August 3, 2004

Quarks are the smaller-than-a-proton particles without which there would be no stars, dogs, or breakfast burritos. In 1986, after a dozen frustrating years of trying to find ways of using computers to calculate properties of quark-containing entities such as protons and neutrons, Kenneth G. Wilson threw in the towel at a physics meeting. Wilson, who had already won a Nobel prize for previous work in another branch of physics, had been trying to make realistic predictions using the mathematically unwieldy theory of quark physics known as quantum chromodynamics (QCD). He had even invented a computational technique, called lattice QCD, to do just that. Bemoaning the dearth of computing power available at the time, however, he concluded that his approach just wasn't worth pursuing.

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