After a long hiatus, I am back, and ready to entertain and inform my readers with a new series. This one pertains to the Quantum Physics, a subatomic hobby of mine. Each piece will be explaining a different piece of Quantum Physics, starting with the very first series: Unlock the Secrets of The Standard Model. I’m hoping that after I’m done, I’ll be able to compile all the information into a short book. So here is Part 1: Quarks.
In high school, we all learned about the “basic building blocks of matter.” We always assumed that things like protons, neutrons, and electrons were the end all be all of what composes matter. We learned about things like elements, covalent bonds, electron interactions, and even a little bit of quantum chemistry, but that was the end of it. We never stopped to research, or even consider the fact that there may be something beyond these 3 basic particles. Luckily for the entire scientific community, there is something beyond these 3 particles. The true basic building blocks of almost all of the matter in the universe. These infinitesimal particles are known as quarks.
Before we delve into the definition of a quark, we must first talk about the different classifications of something called “elementary particles.” An elementary particle is a subatomic particle that helps to comprise the most essential pieces of matter in the universe. To help us keep track of all these different particles, we have something called the “Standard Model of Particle Physics.” This standard model separates different forms of matter into the proper categories. The 4 categories that exist within the Standard Model are: Quarks, Leptons, Gauge Bosons, and Scalar Bosons. These 4 categories include all of the different types of KNOWN elementary particles. What has not yet been discovered is so heavily beyond our comprehension, that we simply cannot begin to guess at what it would look like. We like to leave these things to the visionaries, like Feynman or Einstein.
In this post, I will be covering the first piece of the puzzle that is the Standard Model, quarks. Before we can understand what a quark is, we have to understand what a baryon is. A baryon is a specific denomination of matter, which is comprised of protons and neutrons. Anything that contains a proton or a neutron is classified as baryonic, including protons and neutrons themselves. Simply put, anything we can touch is baryonic matter. There are other types of matter, but for the moment, we’ll just be talking about baryonic matter. It is a common misconception that protons and neutrons are the most basic particle building blocks. In fact, I’m willing to guess it’s one of the most common scientific inaccuracies. The true building block of all baryonic matter is the quark. Within all baryons is 3 quarks, which comprise that baryonic particle.
Now that we have established important vocabulary concepts, we can now move on to the nitty gritty. Quarks are a little intimidating to those who are unfamiliar, but I’ll try my best to explain them in a way that makes sense. Quarks are governed by 3 different forces. The first of which is known as “color.” Color has nothing to do with the actual color of the particle, but, rather, the force that the particle is experiencing. The 3 different levels of color force are Red, Green, and Blue. Each color corresponds to a specific level of force that each particle is experiencing. This allows multiple types of the same quark to exist within a particle. The second force is known as spin. Each quark has a spin of ½, which is determined by some extremely confusing math. If you have a solid grasp on calculus, you can check out some resources on h-bar and spin vectors, but otherwise, don’t bother.
The third and final property is its mass. This is where things get truly complicated. Before we talk about the mass of quarks, we must talk about another particle: a gluon. A gluon field surrounds every quark, helping it to stay in place, and allowing it to interact with other quarks without repelling each other. The gluons help the quarks hold different color charges, which allow them to overpower certain quantum elements, such as the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which states that no two particles can occupy the same quantum level. Since each quark is surrounded by a gluon field, we have to take into account two different kinds of mass. The first is known as the current quark mass, which is the mass of the quark itself. The second is called the constituent quark mass, which is the sum of both the quarks mass, and the mass of the gluon field that surrounds it. These 3 properties are the basic constituents of the most fundamental particles every discovered.
The final vocabulary term used when defining quarks is “flavor.” Flavor refers to the type of quark that is being observed. There are 6 known flavors of quarks, and they each come in pairs. The first pair is Up and Down, which are the types that form protons and neutrons. The second pair is Strange and Charm, which are used in heavier particles, such as hadrons. The final pair is the most massive. It includes the Bottom and Top quarks. These 3 pairs of quarks are known as generations.
The world of quantum physics is a beautiful place, and it will only become more so as we find out more about the universe that we live in. Until next time.