New particle found

It’s not the Higgs Boson AKA The God(damn) Particle, but the LHC has found a new particle, composed of a “beauty” quark and an “anti-beauty” quark.

Quarks are the smallest particles that we know of, so small that they have no known structure. They’re called “quarks” because Murray Gell-Mann apparently decided to break with the traditional “-on” ending for particle names and used the following line from Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!

They come in six flavours (yes, you read that correctly): up, down, top/beauty, bottom/truth, strange and charm. Now, these names may sound like something that was invented while drinking or playing darts (which is how the Penguin diagram was invented), but there is a method to the madness. Up and down quarks are named after their components of isospin (this is a quantum number that exists, for instance, to distinguish between neutrons and protons, both of which have similar masses); top and bottom are their logical counterparts. Charm apparently fascinated and pleased (or charmed) the physicists who proposed it because of the symmetry it brought. Strange came from the fact that it appears in certain particles in cosmic rays, which have unusually long lifetimes and where detected before the quark model was even proposed by Gell-Mann and independently by George Zweig.

Another strange thing about quarks is that their electrical charges are not integers: they are either -(1/3)e or +(2/3)e, where e is the charge of an electron. Their antiparticles will have the opposite charge: i.e. a quark with a charge of -1/3 will have an antiquark associated with it with a charge of 1/3. The total charge has to add up to 0 or 1, forming the positively or neutrally charged particles that are known as hadrons (for example, protons and neutrons).

This is pure blue-sky research. It’s unlikely to have any practical use for a long time, if ever, but so bloody what? It expands human knowledge and gives us a better understanding of the universe, which is part of what I love about science: that moment when you realise “Oh, so that’s how it works”.

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About Philip

I'm a physics graduate, sci-fi writer, budding game designer, and amateur human.

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