Quark, Strangeness, and Charm

By Evangeline Jennings

Today I am moved to talk with you about science. Here we should pause to allow my friends to giggle and possibly point an accusing finger. They know I don’t get science, even more than I don’t get math. Whatever. This is still my very favourite bit of science. So what if I need Wikihelp to explain it?

A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly observed or found in isolation; they can only be found within baryons or mesons. For this reason, much of what is known about quarks has been drawn from observations of the hadrons themselves.

Isn’t that fantastic? Implied science.

Apparently, there are six types or “flavours” of quarks – up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. The best quarks – strange, charm, top, and bottom, obv – can only be produced in high energy collisions such as those involving cosmic rays or particle accelerators.

Quarks have various intrinsic properties, including electric charge, color charge, mass, and spin. They’re the only elementary particles in the Standard Model of particle physics to experience all four fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces (electromagnetism, gravitation, strong interaction, and weak interaction), as well as the only known particles whose electric charges are not integer multiples of the elementary charge. For every quark flavor there is a corresponding type of anti-particle, known as anti-quark.

The quark model was independently proposed by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in 1964. Quarks were introduced as parts of an ordering scheme for hadrons, and there was little evidence for their physical existence until deep inelastic scattering experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in 1968. All six flavors of quark have since been observed in accelerator experiments; the top quark, first observed at Fermilab in 1995, was the last to be discovered.

In particle physics, strangeness S is a property of particles, expressed as a quantum number, for describing the decay of particles in strong and electromagnetic reactions, which occur in a short period of time. The terms strange and strangeness predate the discovery of the quark itself, and were adopted after its discovery in order to preserve the continuity of the phrase. Strangeness is now one of four quark flavour quantum numbers – strangeness, charm, topness and bottomness. Again, isn’t that fantastic? As are deep inelastic scattering experiments.

Now I don’t pretend to understand science. I’m too pretty. But if this stuff wasn’t out there already then someone would have to invent it. Because there’s a curious faith here – we believe in things we cannot see and then we go out and prove they exist – and a love of language I find inspiring and, of course, a strange charm.

At heart, I want to be a quantum author and I hope to include a little quark, strangeness, and charm in everything I write. And yes, OK, maybe an occasional top and bottom.

Here’s a lovely song from the time of dinosaurs.

(This entry was brought to you in collaboration with Wikipedia. Big surprise)


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