Marnihedra versus arkanihedra

The publication of an article on “the amplituhedron” in Quanta Magazine, a journal put out by the Simons Foundation, apparently marks the entry of twistor polytopes into the media pantheon of theoretical physics concepts. The article is being discussed in popular Internet forums, and the amplituhedron already has its own Wikipedia page too.

So spare a thought for Marni Sheppeard, who truly suffered for many years, waiting on tables while she did a PhD on twistor polytopes in a country at the very edge of the global physics map, who blogged openly about her ideas and was excoriated as a crackpot for her efforts, who starved herself in order to keep working on physics – and who now has to live with the spectacle of this media celebration, in which already well-paid and well-connected physicists dwelling in the elite institutions of the northern hemisphere are feted for their discoveries, while she remains as unknown and vulnerable as ever, and required to keep enduring whatever grim circumstances she is currently dwelling in.

There are many examples of people who were ahead of their time; who only got belated credit or no credit at all for their work; who anticipated a big discovery, either in a broad way or a highly specific way. The phenomenon comes in many forms. In this instance, here are some of the questions I would like to see answered: What is the relationship between Sheppeard’s body of work, and the new twistor physics now in the headlines? Is there anything that the twistor researchers with salaries and academic appointments can learn from the work that Sheppeard has managed to produce? And, is it still possible to get her into a position where she can work properly, make further contributions, and communicate with her peers?

I still do not know how to turn on comments for older posts, but hopefully the comment section for this one is open and working.

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2 Comments to “Marnihedra versus arkanihedra”

  1. Marni talked to Nima about associahedra and other categorical methods applied to twistor amplitudes long before the amplituhedron paper was written.

    Marni also envisioned motivic amplitudes becoming important, all the way back to her thesis.

    Historically, after Witten’s twistor string paper appeared, Marni was quick to apply categorical methods to the scattering amplitudes. I learned of associahedra from her, and they are a way of tiling the moduli space of Riemann surfaces with punctures. Essentially, the goal is to re-write all super Yang-Mills theories categorically and have scattering amplitudes reduced to mere combinatorics. This will allow one to attack all related supergravity theories as well, via the SYM^2=SUGRA relation.

  2. In future, I hope that this blog can focus on expert discussion of her work, so I have hidden some old comments by fans. Sorry!

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