What do quarks look like
The structure of our matter
Our world consists of all kinds of particles. In fact, we have already found so many elementary particles today that we can already speak of a whole particle zoo. Atoms are not the smallest elementary particles, we have known that for a long time, they consist of neutrons, protons and electrons. But are these the last, indivisible particles? Or ... is there such a last particle at all? To bring some order to this jumble of particles, let's take a look at a very important family of particles: the quarks.
What are quarks?
Quarks are the basic building blocks of our matter. Maybe they are not the most basic, but they are more basic than any other particle we know or have found so far. Atoms consist of protons and neutrons, among other things. However, these are in turn made up of even smaller particles: the quarks. There are a total of 12 different quarks, 6 regular and 6 antiquarks. We'll see what exactly they do a little further below. First of all, it is astonishing that our entire matter surrounding us is composed of only 3 different particles: They are the up quarks, down quarks and the electrons (which, by the way, are not made up of quarks, but represent an independent group of particles).
What are the quarks doing?
Short answer: actually nothing. They are just the next smaller building blocks after the neutrons and protons. But this only applies to ordinary matter, that is, the matter from which we are built. In high-energy experiments, the quarks do something very well: they transform, disintegrate, form new, partly unknown particles. But back to the ideal world: an electron is negatively charged, a proton is positive. What about the quarks? They too have an electrical charge, but curiously not an integer: the up quark carries the charge +2/3, the down quark -1/3. If, for example, two down quarks and one up quark are brought together, the resulting 3-part structure no longer has any external electrical charge, since the individual charge values cancel each other out exactly. And already we have found the neutron, namely it is made up of exactly these 3 quarks and is known to have no electrical charge.
The color charge of the quarks
In addition to their electrical charge, quarks also carry what is known as a “color charge”. This can be used to explain clearly which combinations of quarks are possible. Because quarks never appear individually, i.e. as free, swirling particles (at least that has never been observed). They are always packed together in packages of two, three or even more quarks, as we have just seen with the neutron and proton. The quarks can take on 3 different values with regard to the color charge: red, green and blue. If you beam these colors onto the wall with 3 spotlights in such a way that they overlap, you get white. This “white” also plays a major role in quarks: only those quark combinations are stable whose color charges add up to “white”.
A strange but charming clan
There are 6 regular quarks, and two of them each belong to their own family: We are allowed to introduce: Up and Down, Strange and Charm, and finally Top and Bottom. The families only differ in one thing: their mass. The up-down family is the lightest and the top-bottom clan is the poundiest of the relatives. Incidentally, other particles also belong to the individual families, e.g. the antiquarks, electrons, muons, tauons, and various neutrinos including antiparticles are still missing. Since most of them rarely visit their clan, they are of no further interest here. Much more decisive is the question of why the elementary particles known to us come together in three, and not in five, 814 or just one family. Finding this out will solve an important question in today's physics.
Are quarks the smallest particles?
In the course of time we have found more and more fundamental building blocks of our matter. First it was the atoms, then you discovered the neutrons, protons and electrons. Today we got to the quarks. Will there ever be an end? There is a theory that says yes! The so-called string theory asserts that the smallest possible, physically describable objects are extremely tiny, vibrating energy-energy filaments. Each of these strings represents a particle of matter, depending on its oscillation behavior. An electron, for example, is nothing more than one of these oscillating strings. String theory is, however, very difficult to prove in practice because its “mechanics” take place on orders of magnitude that are so small that we will probably never reach them with our technical devices. At least not completely: Certain areas of string theory should be able to be checked with the Geneva particle accelerator LHC (commissioning summer 2008).
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