Particles

Particles are teensy, weensy things that make up everything in the universe. And if that wasn't enough, each particle has an antiparticle, meaning that if you believe in an infinite universe, the anti-you is reading this anti-article somewhere.

Not Pictured: Real Science.

Artist's conception of the Higg's Boson.

Just The Facts

  1. A particle and it's antiparticle will completely destroy each other and release huge amounts of energy if they come in contact, so don't shake the anti-you's hand.
  2. The particle collective is known as the particle zoo, guaranteeing your kids will never ask you to take them on a day out again if you visit this one.
  3. Scientists have recently found the Higg's Boson, known to silly people as the God particle.
  4. You and your anti-you have now become aware of each other.

Particles 101

There was a time when science was quite happy with protons, neutrons and electrons, the bread, bacon and ketchup of the particle world. With the discovery of the almost undetectable neutrino and quarks, scientists started taking an unhealthy interest in the sub-atomic world. This has gone to the extent that, if there is a hole in their theories or calculations, they make up a new particle name, document it's potential properties and spend uncountable billions smashing protons together at insane speeds until they find it. Now there are well over 100 known particles in the particle zoo, some of which last for all of 10-23 seconds (or 100 zeptoseconds). In Layman's terms, this is the exact amount of time it takes Hollywood to give the thumbs up to a crappy remake of a cult-classic film.

Main Families of Particles

Elementary particles are split into two groups:

1. Fermions - These are the building blocks of matter, 6 leptons (one of which is the electron) and 6 quarks. Quite literally, these are the bricks that make up everything you see around you, including, but not limited to, the hipster who's reading this over your shoulder and criticising your nerdiness.

2. Bosons - If fermions are the bricks, then bosons are the mortar. These are responsible for the fundamental forces (electromagnetic, gravitational, strong nuclear and weak nuclear) of nature and also for ensuring that fermions have mass. So, maybe the mortar AND the duct tape of the universe.

Hadrons are composite particles grouped into:

1. Baryons - Made up of composite fermions. Here you'll find the more well-known proton and neutron, the latter making safe, natural, delicious nuclear power plants possible.

2. Mesons - These are composite bosons, don't last very long, and they are.....ah, hell, it's too complicated. If you're studying for an exam tomorrow morning then you came to the wrong page Go read up on them here if you really need to.

Particles of Particular (har-de-har) Interest

1. Higg's Boson

As mentioned earlier, this particle has been "tentatively confirmed to exist" this year, invoking images of scientists using Chinese Whispers to convey results to their colleagues. Amazingly, it took almost 50 years to find this particle from the time it was originally surmised to exist, a feat only beaten by Ellen Ripley trying to find her way home. It's also known as the God particle, a fact that delighted many people the world round. The particle itself is responsible for certain particles to have mass.

2. Strange Quark

As you might have guessed, it's rarely good when scientists dub something as "strange". Generally, the strange quark tends to appear in large amounts at the center of stars but it is one which could theoretically appear due to the insanity of the Large Hadron Collider. A strange quark thus created could lead to strange matter which could then cause the nuclei of atoms to decay into strange matter, turning us all rather strange so to speak. Many will note the peculiar similarity to this situation and the creation of the first Harlem Shake video.

3. Muon Neutrino

In 2011, scientists in Italy and Switzerland wet themselves with excitement because they thought that they had observed this particle travelling faster than light. This was the equivalent of you randomly flying three meters upwards, knocking an apple off a tree with your head and having it shout "Eureka". Because neutrinos are so hard to detect (basically, they leave tracks in water tanks buried deep underground, no doubt causing more than a few world domination plots to hatch while down there), this was met with some suspicion and was debunked soon after, leaving nothing to do but mop up a lot of excitement piddle puddles.

Missing in Action

Three of the four fundamental forces of nature are attributed to (or blamed on, depending on whether you're a human or a black hole caught at the scene of a crime) a known particle. Gravitational Force has yet to be linked to a particle but one, called the graviton (surprise, surprise) has been hypothesised. Many of you reading know that gravitational force between two bodies decreases quickly with increasing distance between them. Those who didn't know this do now. Decreasing attraction between two bodies because of an increasing number of these particles between them is the physics equivalent of eating biscuits in bed [citation badly, desperately needed]. It begs one question though: will they find an anti-graviton? The answer is, of course, "GET YOUR ASSES IN GEAR. MY HOVERBOARD ISN'T GOING TO MAKE ITSELF!"