Chirality (physics)

Chirality (physics)

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A chiral phenomenon is one that is not identical to its mirror image
Mirror image
A mirror image is a reflected duplication of an object that appears identical but reversed. As an optical effect it results from reflection off of substances such as a mirror or water. It is also a concept in geometry and can be used as a conceptualization process for 3-D structures...

 (see Chirality
Chirality (mathematics)
In geometry, a figure is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, or, more precisely, if it cannot be mapped to its mirror image by rotations and translations alone. For example, a right shoe is different from a left shoe, and clockwise is different from counterclockwise.A chiral object...

). The spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 of a particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

 may be used to define a handedness (aka chirality
Chirality
Chirality is a property of asymmetry important in several branches of science. It may refer to:* Chirality , a property of molecules having a non-superimposable mirror image...

) for that particle. A symmetry transformation between the two is called parity
Parity (physics)
In physics, a parity transformation is the flip in the sign of one spatial coordinate. In three dimensions, it is also commonly described by the simultaneous flip in the sign of all three spatial coordinates:...

. Invariance under parity by a Dirac fermion
Dirac fermion
In particle physics, a Dirac fermion is a fermion which is not its own anti-particle. It is named for Paul Dirac. All fermions in the standard model, except possibly neutrinos, are Dirac fermions...

 is called chiral symmetry.

An experiment on the weak decay of cobalt
Cobalt
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. It is found naturally only in chemically combined form. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal....

-60 nuclei carried out by Chien-Shiung Wu
Chien-Shiung Wu
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American physicist with expertise in the techniques of experimental physics and radioactivity. Wu worked on the Manhattan Project...

 and collaborators in 1957 demonstrated that parity is not a symmetry of the universe.

Chirality and helicity



The helicity of a particle is right-handed if the direction of its spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 is the same as the direction of its motion. It is left-handed if the directions of spin and motion are opposite. By convention for rotation, a standard clock
Clock
A clock is an instrument used to indicate, keep, and co-ordinate time. The word clock is derived ultimately from the Celtic words clagan and clocca meaning "bell". A silent instrument missing such a mechanism has traditionally been known as a timepiece...

, tossed with its face directed forwards, has left-handed helicity. Mathematically, helicity is the sign of the projection of the spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 vector onto the momentum
Momentum
In classical mechanics, linear momentum or translational momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object...

 vector: left is negative, right is positive.


The chirality of a particle is more abstract. It is determined by whether the particle transforms in a right or left-handed representation of the Poincaré group
Poincaré group
In physics and mathematics, the Poincaré group, named after Henri Poincaré, is the group of isometries of Minkowski spacetime.-Simple explanation:...

. (However, some representations, such as Dirac spinors, have both right and left-handed components. In cases like this, we can define projection operators that project out either the right or left hand components and discuss the right and left-handed portions of the representation.)

For massless particles—such as the photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

, the gluon
Gluon
Gluons are elementary particles which act as the exchange particles for the color force between quarks, analogous to the exchange of photons in the electromagnetic force between two charged particles....

, and the (hypothetical) graviton
Graviton
In physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless and must have a spin of 2...

—chirality is the same as helicity; a given massless particle appears to spin in the same direction along its axis of motion regardless of point of view of the observer.

For massive particles—such as electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

s, quark
Quark
A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly...

s, and neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

s—chirality and helicity must be distinguished. In the case of these particles, it is possible for an observer to change to a reference frame
Reference frame
Reference frame may refer to:*Frame of reference, in physics*Reference frame , frames of a compressed video that are used to define future frames...

 that overtakes the spinning particle, in which case the particle will then appear to move backwards, and its helicity (which may be thought of as 'apparent chirality') will be reversed.

A massless particle moves with the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

, so a real observer (who must always travel at less than the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

) cannot be in any reference frame where the particle appears to reverse its relative direction, meaning that all real observers see the same chirality. Because of this, the direction of spin of massless particles is not affected by a Lorentz boost (change of viewpoint) in the direction of motion of the particle, and the sign of the projection (helicity) is fixed for all reference frames: the helicity is a relativistic invariant.

With the discovery of neutrino oscillation
Neutrino oscillation
Neutrino oscillation is a quantum mechanical phenomenon predicted by Bruno Pontecorvowhereby a neutrino created with a specific lepton flavor can later be measured to have a different flavor. The probability of measuring a particular flavor for a neutrino varies periodically as it propagates...

, which implies that neutrinos have mass, the only observed massless particle is the photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

. The gluon
Gluon
Gluons are elementary particles which act as the exchange particles for the color force between quarks, analogous to the exchange of photons in the electromagnetic force between two charged particles....

 also is expected to be massless, although the assumption that it is massless has not been well tested. Hence, these are the only two particles now known for which helicity could be identical to chirality, and only one that has been confirmed by measurement. All other observed particles have mass and thus may have different helicities in different reference frames. It is still possible that as-yet unobserved particles, like the graviton
Graviton
In physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless and must have a spin of 2...

, might be massless, and hence have invariant helicity like the photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

.

Chiral theories


It has been observed that only left-handed fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

s interact with the weak interaction. In most circumstances, two left-handed fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

s interact more strongly than right-handed or opposite-handed fermions. Experiments sensitive to this effect imply that the universe has a preference for left-handed chirality, which violates a symmetry of the other forces of nature.

Chirality for a Dirac fermion ψ is defined by the operator γ5, which has eigenvalues ±1. Any Dirac field can therefore be projected into its left- or right-handed component by the operation of the projection operator (1–γ5)/2 or (1+γ5)/2 acting on ψ. The coupling of the weak interaction to fermions is proportional to such a projection operator, which is responsible for its parity symmetry
Parity (physics)
In physics, a parity transformation is the flip in the sign of one spatial coordinate. In three dimensions, it is also commonly described by the simultaneous flip in the sign of all three spatial coordinates:...

 violation.

A common source of confusion is due to conflating this operator with the helicity
Helicity
The term helicity has several meanings. In physics, all referring to a phenomenon that resembles a helix. See:*helicity , the extent to which corkscrew-like motion occurs...

 operator. Since the helicity of massive particles is frame-dependent, it might seem that the same particle would interact with the weak force according to one frame of reference, but not another. The resolution to this paradox is that the chirality operator is equivalent to helicity for massless fields only, for which helicity is not frame-dependent. For massive particles, chirality is not the same as helicity so there is no frame dependence of the weak interaction: a particle that interacts with the weak force does so in every frame.

A theory that is asymmetric between chiralities is called a chiral theory, while a parity symmetric theory is sometimes called a vector theory. Most pieces of the Standard Model
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 of physics are non-chiral, which may be due to problems of anomaly cancellation
Anomaly (physics)
In quantum physics an anomaly or quantum anomaly is the failure of a symmetry of a theory's classical action to be a symmetry of any regularization of the full quantum theory. In classical physics an anomaly is the failure of a symmetry to be restored in the limit in which the symmetry-breaking...

 in chiral theories. Quantum chromodynamics
Quantum chromodynamics
In theoretical physics, quantum chromodynamics is a theory of the strong interaction , a fundamental force describing the interactions of the quarks and gluons making up hadrons . It is the study of the SU Yang–Mills theory of color-charged fermions...

 is an example of a vector theory since both chiralities of all quarks appear in the theory, and couple the same way.

The electroweak theory developed in the mid 20th century is an example of a chiral theory. Originally, it assumed that neutrinos were massless, and only assumed the existence of left-handed neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

s (along with their complementary right-handed antineutrinos). After the observation of neutrino oscillation
Neutrino oscillation
Neutrino oscillation is a quantum mechanical phenomenon predicted by Bruno Pontecorvowhereby a neutrino created with a specific lepton flavor can later be measured to have a different flavor. The probability of measuring a particular flavor for a neutrino varies periodically as it propagates...

s, which imply that neutrinos are massive like all other fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

s, the revised theories of the electroweak interaction now include both right- and left-handed neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

s. However, it is still a chiral theory, as it does not respect parity symmetry.

The exact nature of the neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

 is still unsettled and so the electroweak theories that have been proposed are different, but most accommodate the chirality of neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

s in the same way as was already done for all other fermions.

Chiral symmetry


Vector gauge theories
Gauge theory
In physics, gauge invariance is the property of a field theory in which different configurations of the underlying fundamental but unobservable fields result in identical observable quantities. A theory with such a property is called a gauge theory...

 with massless Dirac fermion fields exhibit chiral symmetry
Chiral symmetry
In quantum field theory, chiral symmetry is a possible symmetry of the Lagrangian under which the left-handed and right-handed parts of Dirac fields transform independently...

, i.e., rotating the left-handed and the right-handed components independently makes no difference to the theory. We can write this as the action of rotation on the fields:
  and  

or
  and  

With N flavors, we have unitary rotations instead: SU(N)L×SU(N)R.

Massive fermions do not exhibit chiral symmetry. One also says that the mass term in the Lagrangian
Lagrangian
The Lagrangian, L, of a dynamical system is a function that summarizes the dynamics of the system. It is named after Joseph Louis Lagrange. The concept of a Lagrangian was originally introduced in a reformulation of classical mechanics by Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton known as...

, breaks chiral symmetry explicitly. Spontaneous chiral symmetry breaking may also occur in some theories, most notably in quantum chromodynamics
Quantum chromodynamics
In theoretical physics, quantum chromodynamics is a theory of the strong interaction , a fundamental force describing the interactions of the quarks and gluons making up hadrons . It is the study of the SU Yang–Mills theory of color-charged fermions...

.

See also

  • Electroweak theory
  • Chirality (chemistry)
    Chirality (chemistry)
    A chiral molecule is a type of molecule that lacks an internal plane of symmetry and thus has a non-superimposable mirror image. The feature that is most often the cause of chirality in molecules is the presence of an asymmetric carbon atom....

  • Chirality (mathematics)
    Chirality (mathematics)
    In geometry, a figure is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, or, more precisely, if it cannot be mapped to its mirror image by rotations and translations alone. For example, a right shoe is different from a left shoe, and clockwise is different from counterclockwise.A chiral object...

  • Chiral symmetry
    Chiral symmetry
    In quantum field theory, chiral symmetry is a possible symmetry of the Lagrangian under which the left-handed and right-handed parts of Dirac fields transform independently...

  • Handedness
    Handedness
    Handedness is a human attribute defined by unequal distribution of fine motor skills between the left and right hands. An individual who is more dexterous with the right hand is called right-handed and one who is more skilled with the left is said to be left-handed...

  • Spinors and Dirac fields