One of the foundations of Einstein's Special Relativity is that no particular frame of reference is better than any other - whether you're sitting on the couch or barreling through space on a rocket, physics doesn't change. On the other hand, as many physics undergrads learn, choosing the right reference frame can simplify your homework problems a lot.

Thanks to Einstein, physicists know that the world looks different depending on how fast you're moving. A new analysis shows that it is a lot prettier (mathematically speaking) if you're moving at just the right speed, leading to an improvement in calculations describing colliding particle beams and lasers by factors of a million or so.

Complex calculations of particle interactions can be speeded up a million times by choosing the optimal frame of reference. Credit: J.-L. Vay

Jean-Luc Vay has found that the same is true for calculations that describe what happens when particles smash together at nearly the speed of light in machines like the forthcoming Large Hadron Collider experiment in Geneva. But instead of saving a few hours of homework time, Vay's analysis shows a surprising million-fold improvement in calculation speed.

The discovery should allow much higher precision analyses of high energy physics experiments as well as helping physicists to model interactions that were previously just too computationally intensive to consider.

- J.-L. Vay, 2007 APS Division of Plasma Physics annual meeting
November 16, 2007