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If you ask a physicist how particles interact and you have a drawing surface handy, the explanation will likely come in the form of a series of lines, arrows, squiggles and loops.

These drawings, called Feynman diagrams, help organize a calculation. They represent the mathematical formulas of how particles interact, beginning to end, and also the rate at which the interaction happens.

A new exhibit at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory examines the beauty and simplicity of this shorthand. 

“For all of us, experimentalists and theorists alike, the way we think about things really is embedded in Feynman diagrams,” says Chris Quigg, a Fermilab theoretical physicist. “They’re wonderful shorthand for getting to the essence of what’s going on.”

“The Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams” by Edward Tufte celebrates the work of Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who developed the eponymous diagrams. Tufte is a Yale professor, statistician and artist who has written four books on analytical design. In his search for the effective data visualizations, Tufte was inspired by Feynman's book QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.

“Feynman diagrams are among the most important and best information visualizations ever made,” Tufte says. “They replace some hairy math, visualize nature at extremely small scales and have direct empirical relevance.”

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