Introduction to gauge theory
Date: 05-03-2021 - 10:21
"This article is a non-technical introduction to the subject. For the main encyclopedia article, see Gauge theory.
A gauge theory is a type of theory in physics. The word gauge means a measurement, a thickness, an in-between distance (as in railroad tracks), or a resulting number of units per certain parameter (a number of loops in an inch of fabric or a number of lead balls in a pound of ammunition). Modern theories describe physical forces in terms of fields, e.g., the electromagnetic field, the gravitational field, and fields that describe forces between the elementary particles. A general feature of these field theories is that the fundamental fields cannot be directly measured; however, some associated quantities can be measured, such as charges, energies, and velocities. For example, say you cannot measure the diameter of a lead ball, but you can determine how many lead balls, which are equal in every way, are required to make a pound. Using the number of balls, the elemental mass of lead, and the formula for calculating the volume of a sphere from its diameter, one could indirectly determine the diameter of a single lead ball. In field theories, different configurations of the unobservable fields can result in identical observable quantities. A transformation from one such field configuration to another is called a gauge transformation; the lack of change in the measurable quantities, despite the field being transformed, is a property called gauge invariance. For example, if you could measure the color of lead balls and discover that when you change the color, you still fit the same number of balls in a pound, the property of "color" would show gauge invariance. Since any kind of invariance under a field transformation is considered a symmetry, gauge invariance is sometimes called gauge symmetry. Generally, any theory that has the property of gauge invariance is considered a gauge theory.
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The importance of gauge theories for physics stems from their tremendous success in providing a unified framework to describe the quantum-mechanical behavior of electromagnetism, the weak force and the strong force. This gauge theory, known as the Standard Model, accurately describes experimental predictions regarding three of the four fundamental forces of nature.