What is symmetry in physics?

4 minutes

If life feels out of balance, don’t worry – there’s always symmetry below the surface

In 1915, the German mathematician Emmy Noether dramatically transformed how scientists think about the physical world when she revealed her theorem that wherever there is a symmetry in nature there is a corresponding conservation law. In essence, Noether proved that systems are not changed by shifting their location in time or space, which supports the idea that the total amount of energy in the Universe always remains the same, and explains why we live in a world that is not fully chaotic and unpredictable. The theorem has stood the test of time; even in the seemingly strange world of particle physics, where symmetry appears to break down, scientists continue to find ‘local symmetries’ lurking beneath the surface. This lively animated explainer from the the Royal Institution breaks down symmetry into its most basic parts, including how symmetries fit into the Standard Model – the leading theory of three of the Universe’s four fundamental forces.

Animator: Rosanna Wan

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