Supersymmetry (often abbreviated to SUSY) is a theory that involves every particle in the Standard Model having a so-called “superpartner”, identical in every way except for its spin. Specifically, for every spin-one-half fermion (quark or lepton) there is an associated spin-one “squark” and “slepton”, and for every spin-one boson (the photon, W and Z bosons, and the gluon) there exists a spin-half “bosino”. There is a similar correspondence for the spin-zero Higgs boson but it’s a bit more complicated with at least an additional four Higgs bosons required, but we need not get mired in the details here. The main point is that supersymmetry resolves several important issues with the Standard Model, to such an extent that many believe the universe must be supersymmetric. Perhaps it is, but so far Nature has shown utter contempt for what we think is a beautiful theory, since no evidence for a single supersymmetric particle has been found although they more than double the total number of fundamental particle types. If SUSY-particles had the same mass as their associate particles we would have found them, meaning they have very different masses if they exist at all. This implies that if supersymmetry is a fundamental symmetry it was broken in the very early universe. So for now the Standard Model holds, and with the enthusiasm for SUSY slowly but gradually being drained by the experiments at the LHC, there is dwindling hope for its validity at energies accessible to us. Indeed, what we don’t find in our explorations of Nature is an equally vital aspect to our understanding.
It all started with the Christmas ham.
Our refrigerator was nothing special, double doors that open to the usual compartments, a single-drawer freezer on the bottom, an exterior water and ice dispenser (which one may consider a slight extravagance), but all in all, a fairly standard model. It worked well for a long time. There were ups and downs, some strange, but it worked like a charm, from top to bottom.
Flaws in the design first became apparent one mid-December when planning a holiday party for more than our typical number of friends and family. How was the Christmas ham supposed to fit in the unreasonably shallow meat section of the fridge? The meat section, clearly labelled, extended across the width of the bottom of the fridge.
The vegetable section was taller but narrower, just above the shallow meat section, occupying half the interior width, with the other half, to the left, of equal size reserved for fruits. They were all advertised as being optimally “climate controlled” for their respective produce. The doors had narrow shelves with variable spacings on their interiors. The shelves belonging to the right door were deep enough to put the milk, and one was high enough to chill a bottle or two of Chardonnay. The left door housed the ice maker and water dispenser. It also had interior shelves but they were too
narrow and short to be practical for anything but tiny bottles of special dressings, capers, and sticks of butter, unpacked. Above the fruit and vegetable sections were two standard shelves with awkward in-between heights, too short for a carton of milk, while wasting valuable space for the shorter things that did fit, jars of olives, peanut butter, jams, plates of leftovers covered with tinfoil. It was never very clear where the cheeses should go, so they tended to be scattered around wherever they could fit.
The Christmas ham had to be immediately refrigerated, and not fitting in its designated section was, for the time being at least, squeezed onto one of the upper shelves, pushing the shelf above it slightly off its supports. The vegetable section was getting full, with a large bag of green beans for the green bean casserole, a bag of washed baby spinach that took up more space than its weight would suggest it deserved, a bag of chopped broccoli, and a few dozen Brussel sprouts. But when it came time to find room for the bunch of carrots, although topped, they were too long to fit properly in the vegetable drawer. So they went onto one of the upper shelves as well. The fruit section was barely adequate. Containers of strawberries and blueberries, and a large bag of cranberries were crammed into a space that had also been accumulating most of the cheeses.
With the upper shelves being filled by things they shouldn’t be, there was now no room for the apple pie and leftover pizza. A redesign was necessary. The standard layout had run its course, useful for a time, but now being tested by greater demands. All the shelves needed to come out. The deceptively robust plastic shelving proved a significant challenge, but were eventually and forcibly removed. The ice maker, taking up significant space on the inside of the left door was also removed to make way for more practical door shelving. The climate control vents were reconfigured for the new layout, and two small holes were drilled from the fridge floor into the freezer section to allow a greater temperature and humidity gradient in the lower sections. The meat section was reworked into an L shape, with one half being as before and the other now extending half way up into where the fruit section used to be, to accommodate larger items, such as the Christmas ham. The vegetable section was also extended by introducing an annex that extended to the left filling up the rest of the old fruit section. This left a nice little nook in the middle, perfect for the cheeses. The upper two shelves were made into a new fruit section and a more practical section for mid-sized items.
The exhilarating wave of novelty reaffirmed my passion for discovery. Had I truly found a solution for revolutionizing interior refrigerator design?
The next morning I opened one of the fridge doors, not really needing anything, more to admire my work. I noticed a faint but distinctly sour smell. Probably nothing. Later that evening I opened the right door for the half bottle of Chardonnay left from the night before and was hit with an odious smell of no discernible origin or location. I began to empty out the fridge’s contents. There was a region where condensation was forming at an alarming rate, near the interface between two climate controlled volumes. A lot of moisture had collected on the bottom of the vegetable and meat sections, causing the refrigerator to work overtime in trying to control their respective environments. I dipped a finger into one of pools of collected liquid. It smelled and tasted petrochemically tinged and it wasn’t reacting well with the vegetables and meats near the bottom. I think this was the main source of the foul smell. Some of the moisture was also leaking through the holes into the freezer section and beginning to thaw the container of seafood gumbo from a few months ago.
The lawless spiral of escalating issues pointed to a dramatic failure of my novel design. Disheartened that a design of such elegance did not work in practice, I disassembled all I had created and reinstalled the original layout.
Although now content with the standard design, I maintain the belief that a better solution will one day be found. And when I feel despair over resigning to the old order in my fridge, I think back with child-like nostalgia to when I believed ideas should work simply for their novelty and beauty.