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Introduction to Particle physics

Standard Model


High Energy
Particle Physics

Higgs Field



Quantum Particle physics

What’s missing in Particle physics

The Origin of
 the Universe


Particle Physics: The field of physics dealing with subatomic particles.

Particle Physics describes the properties and interactions of subatomic particles. There exists a generally accepted model for particle physics that is somewhat unimaginatively called the Standard Model. This Standard Model has to date proven quit successful, though it does not quite describe everything.

The Standard Model

The Standard Model of particle physics: The theory of how electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions mediate the dynamics between subatomic particles.

The Standard Model was developed during the mid 20th century by scientists from all over the world, it has 17 particles and 13 anti-particles for a total of 30 fundamental particles. Together they make up all of the observable matter of the universe but only 3 of them make up most of the matter of the universe. All fundamental particles are one of two types fermions and bosons and the Fermions are further subdivided into quarks and leptons.

Bosons: Particles that do not obey the Pauli exclusion principle such that more than one particle can occupancy of the same energy state.

There are five bosons, photons, z boson, w boson, gluon and Higgs boson.  Of the five bosons only the w boson has a separate anti-particle called an anti-w boson. Four of them (photons, z boson, w boson, gluon) are force transmitting particles. They transmit the three of four fundamental forces of nature.



w boson
z boson

 Weak nuclear force


Strong nuclear force

The Higgs boson is different in that rather than carrying a force its interactions give rest mass to other particles including itself. The Higgs particle seems to have been found but not yet confirmed but if it confirmed to exist it will show the existence of the Higgs field which provides particles with non zero rest mass with the energy that causes that rest mass.

Fermions: Particles with half-integer spins (1/2) and are subject to the exclusion principle limiting the number of fermions that can be squeezed into a small space.

There are 12 fermions and their respective anti-particles of which only three make up the matter we normally see around us. The others fermions serve useful functions but other than neutrinos they are too unstable to last long enough to common place.

Three fermions that
make up the matter

up quark

down quark


Up quarks and down quarks bind together by way of the strong force to form the protons (2 ups, 1 down) and neurons (2 downs and 1 up) that make up the atomic nucleus. Electron on the other hand form a cloud around the nucleus. 

Quarks: Particles that interact so strongly with each other that they are never observed alone.

Quarks are snotfound alone but are bound by the strong nuclear force in composite particles made of twos and threes quarks. These composite particles are called hadrons the most common of which are protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are the hadrons which makes up atomic nuclei. All together there are six types of quarks and their anti-quarks.

Leptons: Particles that do not interact strongly with other particles, as a result leptons are often found alone.

The most common leptons are electrons and along their two heavier twins (muons and taus) are charged so that they interact electromagnetically. Each of these have a corresponding neutrino. Neutrinos are uncharged and interact so weakly that they can easily pass through the Earth. As a result there are six types of leptons and their anti- leptons.

The standard model does a good job at describing subatomic physics and while it has by an large been confirmed by experimentation. It is still not a complete picture.


Antimatter: Any material made of antiparticles.

Anti-atoms and anti-molecules are made of antiprotons, antineutrons, and positrons.  While Antimatter actually exists but is produced largely in particle accelerators.

Because antimatter and ordinary matter annihilate each other with 100% mass to energy conversion it is a potential power source, however while trace amounts of antimatter have been found in nature it is not enough for any practical use. Possible uses for it would be extremely efficient rockets, and power reactors but they will never practical without a significant, available, natural source of antimatter. Unfortunately antimatter could also be used to build a devastating bomb but fortunately all of the antimatter ever produced in particle accelerators would not even be enough to blowup a cup of coffee. The two biggest problems with practical uses of antimatter are production and long term storage however while its use is popular in science fiction antimatter is just as real as the matter that makes up your body.

High Energy Particle Physics

High Energy Particle Physics involves the highest energy densities ever achieved and the largest machines ever built by man.

There are three main reasons for probing such high energy levels.

The higher the kinetic energy of a particle the shorter its quantum wave length and thus the smaller the area that is can probe.
According to the Big Bang cosmology the universe would have started out at extremely high energy densities so this produces more interest in what happens high energy densities.
Producing particles predicted by theory requires high energy levels.

Probing at altar small scales is needed to understand what matter is like at its most fundamental levels because the smaller the scales the more detail can be seen until you approach plank length.

While high energy particle physics shows what happens at high energy densities it does not reproduce the Big Bang nor does it prove that the Big Bang happened or could have happened. All it shows the conditions that would have exited if the Big Bang had happened.

The Standard Model of particle physics predicts the existence of particles that are not easily detected and the best way to test the existence of these particles is by producing them in particle accelerators.
Producing these particles requires a lot of energy thus requiring the probing such high energy levels.

Higgs Field

Higgs Field: The field that gives rest mass to all fundamental particles with non zero rest mass.

The particle of the Higgs Field is called the Higgs Boson and it has a mass of 125.3 GeV/c2, with no charge, and no spin.

A photon of light moves at the speed of light which is  the speed limit of the universe. Because they travel at the speed of light photons have no rest mass since they can never stop. It turns out that all zero rest mass particles travel at the speed of light and can only travel at the speed of light. On the other hand particles with rest mass can travel at any speed less than the speed of light but can not at the speed of light.
It turns out that if it were not for the Higgs field, all particles would have zero no rest mass and travel at the speed of light

With the Higgs field particles that don’t interact with it travel at in a strait line at the speed of light having zero rest mass. On the other hand Particles that interact with the Higgs field bounce back and forth in the field effectively slowing them down and causing them to effectively travel less than the speed of light  and even effectively standing still while bouncing back and forth at the speed of light. When a particle is moving the bouncing slows with the total motion of the particle still the speed of light but it only moves forward at less than the speed of light. It is the potential energy of the interaction with the Higgs field that provides the particle with rest mass. In order to do this the Higgs field needs to permeate all of space, however the Higgs Boson (the particle of the Higgs field) is the last piece of the standard model to be found and its recent possible discovery shows that that basic concept is correct.


Mesons: Particles consisting a quark - anti-quark pair.

Because mesons consist of both a quark and anti-quark, they tend to be short lived particularly when they are the quark and it own anti-quark. No mesons are among the particles that makeup the atom however the pion is involved in transmitting the strong force between protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom.

Mesons Examples

Native Pion

Neutral Pion

Neutral Pion

Positive Pion

Native Kaon

Native Kaon

Native Kaon

Native Kaon

These are just a small sample of the mesons that are known to exist but unlike most meson pions and kaons are involved in normal matter by helping to transmit the strong nuclear force.


Baryons: particles made up of three quarks.
For anti-baryons it’s, three anti-quarks.

The most common baryons are protons and neutrons which make up atomic nuclei.


Neutron Anti-Proton Anti-Neutron

Despite the number baryons that exist only protons and neutrons are found in normal matter and these two are found together in the nuclei of atoms.

Quantum Particle Physics

While quantum physics is at the hart of particle physics this section deal with what quantum physics shows is behind the particles. Actually in a sense quantum particle physics is not quite an accurate term since quantum physics deals more with fields than particles with the particles  only actually showing up when being observed.

Now this is not the type of field that is meant by fields, the fields of quantum physics are more like what follows.

You can measure the temperature in a room by placing a thermometer in the room and reading the temperature on it. However this can not be said to be the temperature across the entire room. To get a better idea of the temperature across the entire room. Ideally you need to measure the temperature at different points in the room and in fact lots of different point. If you measure the temperature at every point in the room it can vary greatly from point to point however it is this collection of measurements that is what is meant as a field in physics.

To make it simple let us start with a field that is uniform, that is the same value every place. Now let’s see what happens when we add objects. If you place an object in that field like a tennis ball that is at room temperature. The ball doses not interact this the field in that it does not change the field.

If you place an object in that field like ice that has a cooler temperature than the room then it interacts this the field by reducing the temperature around it. If you place an object in that field like a heater that has a hotter temperature than the room then it interacts this the field by increasing the temperature around it This is the way field work in physics. They exist with in a given area and filling all of that area and they are disturbed by stuff interacting with the field.

A classic example is the electric field between the plates of a capacitor that is hooked to a battery.  The arrowed lines represent the electric field between the plates and as you can see the electric field occupies all of the space between the two plates of a capacitor. Now place an electron in this electric field and it interacts with the electric field causing a distortion in the field. As a result the electron moves towards the positive plate, which is actually the basic principle of an electric current.

In quantum mechanics particles are ultimately high points in fields. It is basically how these high points interact with their field and other fields and that determines a particle's properties. In Quantum Mechanics particles are the quanta of fields. A quanta is the minimum amount involved in an interaction, hence the term quantum mechanics.

What’s missing in Particle physics

The most notable omission of Particle physics is gravity. While a particle called a graviton has been proposed non has ever been found. The problem is that developing a theory that includes gravitons is hard to reconcile with General Relativity which depicts gravity a curvature of space time around an object. 

The other main issue is that while particle physics is good at describing how subatomic particles interact it does not explain what causes them to behave as they do That is it does not describe the under laying nature of particles and their fields.

The Origin of the Universe

While particle physics does not tell us how the universe began it does tell us about the conditions that would have existed in the early stages of the Big Bang if it did occur. Because of this particle physics actually causes a major problem for the Big Bang cosmology. That is that all of the observable Universe is made of ordinary matter, with antimatter being nearly totally absent however the Big Bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter but we see no evidence of the antimatter.

In particle physics the production of a particle of matter from vacuum energy  also produces the equivalent particle of antimatter. This is what would have occurred in the Big Bang since all that would have exited is vacuum energy.

This lead to the first proposed explanation. Since an object made of antimatter would look the same as one made of matter it has been proposed that distant parts of the universe could be composed of antimatter and it would look the same. However there are two major problems with this idea.

When corresponding particles of matter and anti-matter meet they annihilate each other in a burst of radiation. This process of annihilation would be continually occurring where regions of matter and antimatter meet and the resulting radiation should be detectable. However it has never been observed. Furthermore since the fundamental particles of ordinary matter are charged and the equivalent antimatter particles have the opposite charge once produced matter – antimatter particle pairs would tend to be pulled together annihilating each other. Preventing this would require some unknown field to pull mater and antimatter apart, other wise you would get a homogeneous mixture of matter and antimatter.

At first there would be a massive amount of production and annihilation of matter and antimatter. Once the expansion of the universe cooled it below the point where the production would stop but the annihilation would continue This process would continue until there was nothing left or that which was left was too thinly spread out to interact and such conditions could not produce the universe we live in.

Proponents of the Big Bang cosmology understand the problem and have proposed three possible ways around the problem.

  1. That antimatter particles decay faster the their matter counterparts.
  2. Some how there was an over production of matter over antimatter.
  3. Some antimatter particles turned into matter particles.

The claim that antimatter particles decay faster than their matter counterparts is contrary to evidence since in all known cases particles and their anti particles have the same mean lifetime. Furthermore even if the particles that make up normal matter like protons and electrons decay at all their mean lifetime is so long that this idea could probably never be tested.

The claim that some how there was an over production of matter over antimatter is also contrary to evidence since in all known cases matter and antimatter particles are produced together.

The claim that some antimatter particles turned into matter particles is totally contrary to evidence. The closest to this that has been observed are neutrinos becoming different types of neutrinos but not anti neutrinos.

All of the proposed solutions to this problem with the Big Bang are totally speculative and not one is based on observable fact. Perhaps the best solution is that the Big Bang is not how the Universe really began.


Particle physics tells us allot about how the Universe works at the particle level and it is an area of physics that keeps on producing new discoveries. It is however also an expensive line of research requiring gigantic machines and lots and lots of energy. Despite how fruitful the study of particle physics has been its expense is a real problem.


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