Select Page

ashone11 (Chapter 11 ** )

Chapter Eleven — Muster Mark’s Quarks

A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

Chapter 11 — Muster Mark’s Quarks

  • Particle accelerators can whip particles into such a state of liveliness that a single electron can do 47,000 laps around a four-mile tunnel in one second.
  • Particles can come into being and be gone again in as little as 10-24 second.  Even the most sluggish of unstable particles hang around for no more that 10-7 second.
  • Some particles are ludicrously slippery.  Every second the Earth is visited by 10,000 trillion trillion tiny, all but mass-less, neutrinos.  These neutrinos are mostly shot out by the nuclear broiling of the Sun.  Virtually all of these tiny particles pass right through Earth and everything that is on it, including you and me, as if they weren’t there  To trap just a few of them, scientists need tanks holding up to 12.5 million gallons of heavy water (water with an abundance of deuterium in it) in underground chambers (usually abandoned mines).
  • Neutrinos have mass, but not a great deal of it.  Their mass is one ten-millionth that of an electron.
  • The new Large Hadron Collider, scheduled to begin operation in 2005, will achieve fourteen trillion volts of energy and cost about $1.5 billion to construct.
  • Particle physics is a hugely expensive enterprise, but it is a productive one as well.  Today the particle count is well over 150, with a further 100 or so suspected.
  • Although quarks are much too small to have color or taste or any other physical characteristics we would recognize, they are placed in six categories — up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom.  Physicists refer to these classes as ‘flavors’, and these are further divided into the colors red, green, and blue.
  • The ‘Standard Model’ in particle physics consists of six quarks, six leptons, five known bosons (with a postulated sixth boson called the Higgs boson), plus three of the four physical forces (strong physical force, weak physical force, and electromagnetism).
  • The basic building blocks of matter are quarks; these are held together by particles called gluons; together quarks and gluons from protons and neutrons, the stuff of the atom’s nucleus.  Leptons are the source of electrons and neutrinos.  Quarks and leptons together are called fermions.  Bosons are particles that produce and carry forces, and include photons and gluons.
  • Edwin Hubble realized that nearly all galaxies in our field of view were moving away from us.  He realized that this situation could be expressed with a simple equation, Ho = v/d, where Ho is the constant, v is the recessional velocity of a flying galaxy, and d the distance of the galaxy away from us.  Ho has been known every since as the Hubble constant and the whole as Hubble’s Law.
  • In 2003, a team from NASA calculated that the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, plus or minus 100 million years.
  • As scientists calculate the amount of matter needed to keep our universe together, they always come up woefully short.  It appears that at least 90 percent of the universe is composed of “dark matter”, stuff that is by its nature invisible to us.
  • Thus, we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distance we don’t altogether know, filled with matter we can’t identify, operating in conformity with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand!

Click here to return to the ASHONE index