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The Universe is Absurd: Elementary Particles

Updated on April 24, 2015

Elementary Particles

It used to be that we thought the atom was the smallest form of indivisible matter. In Greek, the word Atom actually loosely translates to "that which cannot be divided." Now we know that the atom can be split, thanks Einstein, bringing a myriad of other particles into the mix which we now think to be indivisible. We call these Elementary Particles. There are a lot of them, and they are super confusing, so I'm going to do my best to explain the different types of particles we now think to be elementary in the Standard Model of Physics. Two main groups of these particles are fermions and bosons. Let's take a look at what really makes up the Cosmos.

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Fermions

Fermions are the basic makeup of all particles of matter. These elementary particles seem to follow a statistical distribution described by the Fermi-Dirac equations, which makes them less like particles than we are usually familiar with. They are more like a probabilistic distribution of where a particle might be. We cannot directly analyze the exact position of these particles, because they don't really exist in a discrete location. There are 12 of these particles, divided again into Quarks and Leptons.

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Quarks

Quarks are the ingredients of Hadrons, a class of composite particles that include Protons and Neutrons, which most of us are familiar with. Quarks interact via the Strong Force, and only carry charge in fractional quantities, which is really weird, but actually makes sense because they only configure themselves into units of whole charge. They only come together in groups of three, with perhaps one antiquark, thus, only integral charge. Put simply, quarks come together to make Protons and Neutrons. There are six types of Quarks.

Up/Charm/Top: denoted u, c, and t, respectively, have a charge of +2/3

Down/Strange/Bottom: denoted d, s, and b, respectively, have a charge of -1/3

All of these quarks have antimatter relatives that exhibit equal and opposite charge, and they still come together in charges consisting of whole integers. We will talk more in depth about antimatter some other time in a later article.

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Leptons

The good news about leptons is that you have actually heard of one of them, the Electron. The interesting thing is that there are more of them that you probably haven't. Leptons do not interact via the Strong Force, but do utilize the Electromagnetic, Weak, and Gravitational Forces. Similar to Quarks, they are also described as being a probabilistic distribution instead of a classical discrete entity. These particles exhibit a charge of -1, like the Electron, or are neutral and carry a charge of 0. We call the later class of these Leptons Neutrinos.

Electron: This is the thing that floats around atoms. It has a charge of -1 and is responsible for an unreasonable quantity of headaches in Chemistry classes around the globe. It dictates how atoms generally interact with each other, and can be transferred to produce chemical reactions.

Electron Neutrino: We know about this one because of beta decay of Neutrons. When a Neutron decays, it produces a Proton and an Electron. We have figured out that there was an uncharged mass that was unaccounted for in this reaction. That particle was the Electron Neutrino. This particle is incredibly light and has no charge.

Muon: This particle is similar to the Electron but has much less to do with the innerworkings of Chemistry. The Muon decays to produce an Electron and two other Neutrinos via the Weak Force. The lifetime of the Muon is very short, only 2.2 Microseconds on average. Like the Electron, it has a charge of -1.

Muon Neutrino: The discovery of this particle actually led to a Nobel Prize in Physics, granted in 1962 to some astonishing supernerds. This particle arises from the decay of a Muon and has a charge of zero, just like all Neutrinos.

Tau: These are similar to the Electron in that they have a charge of -1, but are much more massive. This means that they are capable of penetrating much deeper into space, our atmosphere, and your body. The good news is that they decay very rapidly, making it much less likely for them to bombard your internal organs.

Tau Neutrino: You're getting the trend now. Neutrinos arise from the decay of the larger Leptons, and they all have a charge of zero. The Tau Neutrino was discovered by the comically named DONUT Experiment at the turn of the millennium.

All of these particles have corresponding antimatter relatives, just like theoretically everything else. These antimatter particles are theorized to behave exactly like the particles we observe on a daily basis, but hold the opposite charge and annihilate to form pure energy when they come in contact with their regular matter counterpart.

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Bosons

Bosons are responsible for carrying the force by which the Fermions and other particles interact. This is essentially the glue that binds other particles and atoms together. They can also be thought of as radiation waves, the distinction between particle and wave begins to lose meaning at this scale. A pretty rad thing about bosons is that they are not subject to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which states that Fermions cannot occupy the same quantum state. A more simplistic way to put this is that Bosons can exist in the same place as another particle at the same time.

Photon: We are very familiar with Photons. They comprise all the visible light we see. What you may not know is that all electromagnetic radiation is made up of Photons. That includes Radio Waves, Microwaves, Infrared Radiation, Ultraviolet Radiation, X-Rays, and Gamma Radiation, in addition to every color in the light spectrum. Photons are massless and travel at a constant speed "c."

W & Z Bosons: These are responsible for carrying the Weak Force that plays a role the interaction of protons and neutrons. It is also a chief contributor to the decay of particles and nuclear reactions. The W Boson has a charge of +1, and its antimatter cousin has a charge of -1. These two are sometimes called W+ and W-, respectively. The Z Boson has a charge of zero and is its own antimatter derivative. The W and Z Bosons are extremely massive, about 100 times as much as a Proton.

Gluon: The Gluon imparts the Strong Force onto Quarks, which in turn make up Protons and Neutrons. This means that the Gluon is basically the glue that holds these Hadrons together and is also pretty much what holds an atom together. The super weird thing is that a Gluon is both massless and has a charge of zero.

Higgs Boson: This is also called the god particle, which physicists really hate. The Higgs Boson is a derivative of the Higgs Field, which what gives all other particles their mass. This is what allows gravitation to work, and thus is responsible for the large scale configuration of our Universe. The Higgs Boson is massive, but holds a zero charge.

Graviton: The Graviton is actually a theoretical particle, meaning it has not been directly observed yet, but physicists are fairly certain it exists, so I have included it for continuity and hypothetical accuracy. This particle is theorized to be massless and have a zero charge, but responsible for imparting gravitational force on particles. The Graviton does not seem to be restricted by the cosmological speed limit as its effects are instantaneous.

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What does this mean for the Universe?

All of these particles, or waves, or probabilistic distributions, are theorized to have antimatter counterparts, comprising everything we have theorized to exist, or ever exist. When put together, these Fermions and Bosons are responsible for all other particles and the four fundamental forces that dictate the evolution and physics of our Universe. Electromagnatism, Strong Nuclear Force, Weak Nuclear Force, and Gravity are all made possible by these previously unknown Fundamental Elements.

We are leaning a lot about how these interactions manifest themselves in reality, made possible by the efforts of CERN and countless other projects worldwide. We could always be on the verge of another theoretical breakthrough. Join me in patient anticipation for those incredible things, out there somewhere, waiting to be known.

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    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Luke

      The principle is identical.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @OZ: Very true. However, physicists are only claiming that exceptionally small elementary particles are popping into existence through well understood, repeatable means. This is very different from claiming something macroscopic is appearing by magic. If you don't personally understand the physics, I can see how the two situations look similar, I will concede that. I don't think that anyone's claiming that miracles are impossible, only highly improbable and typically unfalsifiable.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Peeps

      both science and "religion" agree that stuff can just pop into existence like "magic". Hence there is no need to denigrate religious miracles.

      This is a basic point directly related to the Hub.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @Deb: You are quite welcome. Thank you for commenting meaningfully.

    • profile image

      DebMartin 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for the education update. I'm fascinated and want to see what else you may have written in a way I can understand. Will be checking out your other hubs in just a second. I'm a little bit intimidated by the discussion here though. I just plain love to learn. I am not a scientist but I have the capability to learn. So I get frustrated when a fascinating and educational hub gets hi-jacked by someone like Oz. Anyway, thanks Luke.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Luke

      I take offense to any intimation that I am supposedly "fighting". My brief, succinct and valid ethical approach should be defended by an hp person not insulted.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      I realize you are targeting Austin on this one, but this is my page, so I feel inclined to answer for myself here. Throwing down the racket implies giving up on a task. I did not willingly undertake this task of debating you, and further have not given up. If you will see the rather lengthy retort above you will find that your point was well addressed. I will say again that the article does not touch upon religion... not once. For you to claim this unrelated forum as a soap box for your own idealism is bad enough, but to do so illogically is personally offensive. This is a place for reason. Why don't you two go fight outside?

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Austin

      to any objective reader you have just lost a major point. I am making sense and you throw down your racquet.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      It's hard to escape childhood indoctrination. I think that's what most of it boils down to.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Exactly so. I have no idea why there is such a need for believers to continually search for this god being. It's out of our control either way. We are but grains of sand on a really big beach.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      @AS: Yes, this is very possible. I agree. You knew that I would agree. It still is not the most widely accepted view in physics and, more importantly, has no implications about whether or not a god is making all this happen. The only thing we can say is that it is not necessary and there is no evidence for it. This neither disproves nor supports the notion.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Well, Luke, I am a scientist, and I am of the opinion that the universe is infinite and that the Big Bang may or may not have happened. If it did happen, then I am of the opinion that this expansion and contraction happened over and over again. But there is really no way to prove either the Big Bang or repetitive Big Bangs with the knowledge we currently possess. No, I do not support the Static Model either.

      If the evidence supports the Big Bang, then I'm all for it. But, as I said, there is no reason to believe that only one Big Bang event happened/expanded/collapsed/then happened again. It's entirely possible that this model happens on a universal scale like breathing.

      @Oz - I don't expect you or anyone else to believe me just because that is my opinion on it. Your "clear point" is simply as invalid to my opinions as my opinions are to your "clear point".

      We all have our opinions and hypothesis. And that's why science is so valuable to understanding our world and our universe.

      If I were still in the field, I would have to prove my hypothesis and theories just like any other scientist, but I am retired, and I am left with just my opinions. You are free to discuss or not, it's all up to you.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      Oz: I will respond clearly to your point, helpfully quoted by AS above. Very few scientists are saying the Universe has existed forever. None that I know of state that it is eternal. That would mean they both reject the Big Bang model and support the Static Model... which I should say would be a very small camp indeed. The Universe most likely began at the Big Bang and will end in either a Big Crunch or Big Freeze. There is an exceptional amount of empirical data that supports this. If a religious person says that god is eternal, that is absolutely ok... just as long as they are not claiming to be able to prove that without any sort of data or reasoning. You are free to believe whatever you want regardless of the lack any supporting logic, just don't expect me to believe what you believe just because you want me to... or like, I'm going to burn in some place or whatever, since that is a sincerely infantile, coercive tactic for conversion.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Oz - "I get it: if scientists say the universe

      is eternal that's ok, but if a religious person says god is eternal that's not ok.

      Also, if a scientist says things can just pop into existence that's ok but if a religious person says that things popped into existence that's not ok."

      I really don't care what you say or think.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Austin

      I note you hav not responded honestly to my clear point. In no way have I "twisted" anything. I presented a clear and succint point

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Oz, twisting my words won't make them agree with your points, and this hub is about elemental particles. If you want to think of them as coming from a god, then do so.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      Again, religion is not addressed at all in this article.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Austin

      I get it: if scientists say the universe

      is eternal that's ok, but if a religious person says god is eternal that's not ok.

      Also, if a scientist says things can just pop into existence that's ok but if a religious person says that things popped into existence that's not ok.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      These particles have always existed. They're traveling. In and out of the space being examined at the time. Popping in and out of specific locations. Reference quantum entaglements. They appear when you need them. And they are infinite.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      Interesting how we're not all alike. I never said the Universe always existed. I, like most, am an advocate of the Big Bang.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Austin

      one minute atheists say the universe was always here, then the next minute it pops out of nowhere.

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      Yes, we need to be delving deeper into theoretical particle physics. There are people hard at work on the dark matter problem, as well as dark energy, but these are also theoretical. Particles are the foundation of the Cosmos. Uncovering more accurate truths about them will undoubtedly also have direct implications for the large scale Universe. If we didn't understand radiation at a very small scale, we may have never uncovered the Big Bang, which is a vastly large scale. Understanding the interactions between subatomic particles might very well help us understand why we have so far been unable to interact with dark matter. These problems are inexorably linked. Our hope is to one day derive equations to unify the theories of the very small and the very large. There's no way to do that if we don't learn both sides of the coin.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Thomas, you know there is a difference between theoretical physics and practical physics. I think that practical physics is far more useful! You're right! Why do we need another particle? It's all fun and games until we need something to propel spaceships!

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 

      3 years ago from New Zealand

      This is a great introduction to particle physics. Well written and illustrated. I worry sometimes that physics is too interested in `missing particles' and not enough about how the laws of physics operate over extreme distances, densities, and energies. For example, does `dark matter' really exist? Do we really need another particle to explain our observations? I too look forward to finding out!

    • Luke M Simmons profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke M. Simmons 

      3 years ago from Encinitas, California

      Let's try not to make everything a religious discussion. This article says nothing about origin. Yes, particles come in and out of existence. We have known about this for a long while. Just because human beings are capable of understanding the laws of physics does not mean something resembling a human being must have created them, and it does nothing to disprove this notion either. Even if the laws we use to describe the Cosmos are elegant, which they really aren't anymore, yet, says nothing about why, other than our laws seem intelligently designed, because they were... by us. If all you're taking away from this article is whether or not you can use this information to reassert your own belief system, you should probably stop subscribing to my work.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      The weird thing is that particles DO pop into existence out of nowhere. Quantum mechanics has shown that this happens. The energy produced is massive and it's called Zero Point Energy.

      Just because religious beliefs have been around for thousands of years, doesn't make them true. The universe has been around forever. Mankind, even the Hindus, have only been around for mere seconds by comparison.

      We could all be wrong about everything!

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      Austin

      because science is trying to tell us otherwise: it firmly believes that particles simply "pop" into existence out of nowhere.

      If other lay scientists say the universe was always here that correlates with many religious beliefs anyway!

      Please atheists do not limit understanding of religions to one thin slice of right wing fanatics is the USA. Hinduism has (for example) always been recognizing time lengths of billions of years in its religion: it invented the the concept of "zero" top cope with the gigantic numbers it was describing in its Scriptures.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Oz, you KNOW you can't prove that. You are assuming that these particles came from "somewhere". Why can't they have always been here?

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 

      3 years ago from Australia

      And all this infinite perfectly balanced physics came about by accident out of nowhere? Not.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I feel like I am right back in physics class! Thanks for the updates and explanations! I can almost feel the Higgs-Boson particles holding me together!

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