Scientists have worked for a very long time trying to figure out a theory called quantum field theory. Quantum field theory is a body of laws that describe how the tiny little particles all around us interact – particles tinier than atoms, protons, electrons, and neutrons. We’re talking super tiny particles with names like baryons, quarks, muons, and likely many more that we don’t know about yet. Whatever the particle, we tend to think of these objects as little dots, spheres, or tiny circles. Even the models in books illustrate these particles as tiny little balls. Turns out that scientists thought of them that way too – and when they looked at these in a different perspective, suddenly their work in quantum field theory became much, much easier.

In 2013, scientists wondered how the math they used in quantum field theory would change if these tiny particles were not round, but rather jewel-like shaped. When thinking of particles in terms of tiny balls, the calculations they needed to do spanned many pages and required huge computers to calculate. However, when they described the particle interactions in their mathematical formulas with jewel-like “amplituhedron” shapes – Wow! According to one scientist at Harvard University:

“The degree of efficiency is mind-boggling. You can easily do, on paper, computations that were infeasible even with a computer before.”

These new geometric shapes make lots of theories much clearer to scientists. The amplituhedron shape makes it easier to search for a theory of quantum gravity that would seamlessly connect the large-picture of our universe with the small-picture (drawn with all those tiny particles). These new shapes also make it easier for a particle to “touch” another particle without being right next to it (think of the weird shaped particle as wrapping around another one to reach a distant neighbor). All of these are very important for scientists to be able to describe how our universe works and with little round balls in the mix – the theories just wouldn’t work.

Wondering what a amplituhedron looks like? The amplituhedron looks like an intricate, multifaceted jewel in higher dimensions. It might look like this: