Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
College Physics

Introduction to Particle Physics

College PhysicsIntroduction to Particle Physics

Inside part of the Large Hadron Collider; complex system of machinery and electronics, with a person for scale
Figure 33.1 Part of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, on the border of Switzerland and France. The LHC is a particle accelerator, designed to study fundamental particles. (credit: Image Editor, Flickr)

Chapter Outline

33.1 The Yukawa Particle and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Revisited
  • Define Yukawa particle.
  • State the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
  • Describe pion.
  • Estimate the mass of a pion.
  • Explain meson.
33.2 The Four Basic Forces
  • State the four basic forces.
  • Explain the Feynman diagram for the exchange of a virtual photon between two positive charges.
  • Define QED.
  • Describe the Feynman diagram for the exchange of a between a proton and a neutron.
33.3 Accelerators Create Matter from Energy
  • State the principle of a cyclotron.
  • Explain the principle of a synchrotron.
  • Describe the voltage needed by an accelerator between accelerating tubes.
  • State Fermilab’s accelerator principle.
33.4 Particles, Patterns, and Conservation Laws
  • Define matter and antimatter.
  • Outline the differences between hadrons and leptons.
  • State the differences between mesons and baryons.
33.5 Quarks: Is That All There Is?
  • Define fundamental particle.
  • Describe quark and antiquark.
  • List the flavors of quark.
  • Outline the quark composition of hadrons.
  • Determine quantum numbers from quark composition.
33.6 GUTs: The Unification of Forces
  • State the grand unified theory.
  • Explain the electroweak theory.
  • Define gluons.
  • Describe the principle of quantum chromodynamics.
  • Define the standard model.

Following ideas remarkably similar to those of the ancient Greeks, we continue to look for smaller and smaller structures in nature, hoping ultimately to find and understand the most fundamental building blocks that exist. Atomic physics deals with the smallest units of elements and compounds. In its study, we have found a relatively small number of atoms with systematic properties that explained a tremendous range of phenomena. Nuclear physics is concerned with the nuclei of atoms and their substructures. Here, a smaller number of components—the proton and neutron—make up all nuclei. Exploring the systematic behavior of their interactions has revealed even more about matter, forces, and energy. Particle physics deals with the substructures of atoms and nuclei and is particularly aimed at finding those truly fundamental particles that have no further substructure. Just as in atomic and nuclear physics, we have found a complex array of particles and properties with systematic characteristics analogous to the periodic table and the chart of nuclides. An underlying structure is apparent, and there is some reason to think that we are finding particles that have no substructure. Of course, we have been in similar situations before. For example, atoms were once thought to be the ultimate substructure. Perhaps we will find deeper and deeper structures and never come to an ultimate substructure. We may never really know, as indicated in Figure 33.2.

The figure shows various substructures of a solid in decreasing size from left to right. To the right is a block labeled solid, next comes an image of some spheres connected with rods that is labeled molecule and ten to the minus nine meters, next comes an image labeled atom and ten to the minus ten meters, next comes a an image labeled nucleus and ten to the minus fourteen to ten to the minus fifteen meters, next comes an image labeled nucleon and ten to the minus fifteen meters, and finally there is an image labeled quark and less then ten to the minus eighteen meters. Attached to the quark image is a smaller particle labeled gluon.
Figure 33.2 The properties of matter are based on substructures called molecules and atoms. Atoms have the substructure of a nucleus with orbiting electrons, the interactions of which explain atomic properties. Protons and neutrons, the interactions of which explain the stability and abundance of elements, form the substructure of nuclei. Protons and neutrons are not fundamental—they are composed of quarks. Like electrons and a few other particles, quarks may be the fundamental building blocks of all there is, lacking any further substructure. But the story is not complete, because quarks and electrons may have substructure smaller than details that are presently observable.

This chapter covers the basics of particle physics as we know it today. An amazing convergence of topics is evolving in particle physics. We find that some particles are intimately related to forces, and that nature on the smallest scale may have its greatest influence on the large-scale character of the universe. It is an adventure exceeding the best science fiction because it is not only fantastic, it is real.

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information Citation information

© Mar 3, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.