Notes you should have taken in Physics

Relationships, Terminology, Definitions, and Make-You-Smarter Stuff.


carbon-atom-on-the-future-of-human-evolution-websiteThe basic building block of all matter. The smallest particle of an element that has the same properties as the element. It consists of a central core called the nucleus that is made up of protons and neutrons. Electrons revolve in orbits in the region surrounding the nucleus.

  • A molecule is formed when two or more atoms join together chemically.
  • A compound is a molecule that contains at least two different elements.
  • All compounds are molecules but not all molecules are compounds.
  • An element is a substance that is made entirely from one type of atom. For example, the element hydrogen is made from atoms containing a single proton and a single electron. If you change the number of protons an atom has, you change the type of element it is.



The Coolest Periodic Table Ever. Brought to you by the Future of Human Evolution Website, courtesy Enlarge.

  • An element is a substance that is made entirely from one type of atom. For example, the element hydrogen is made from atoms containing a single proton and a single electron. If you change the number of protons an atom has, you change the type of element it is.
  • Some of the atoms in hydrogen have no neutrons, some of them have one neutron and a few of them have two neutrons. These different versions of hydrogen are called isotopes.
  • All isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons, but have a different number of neutrons. If you change the number of neutrons an atom has, you make an isotope of that element.
  • There are 116 different elements. Some elements, like gold, silver, copper and carbon, have been known for centuries. Newer elements like meitnerium, darmstadtium and ununquadium are more recent.
  • All known elements are arranged on a chart called the Periodic Table of Elements.

The Standard Model

The Standard Model is the name given to the current theory of fundamental particles and how they interact. This theory includes:

  • Strong interactions due to the color charges of quarks and gluons.
  • A combined theory of weak and electromagnetic interaction, known as electroweak theory, that introduces W and Z bosons as the carrier particles of weak processes, and photons as mediators to electromagnetic interactions. Discovery of the Higgs Boson at the LHC solidified the validity of the model (with all of its limitations of course).
  • The theory does not include the effects of gravitational interactions. These effects are tiny under high-energy Physics situations, and can be neglected in describing the experiments.
  • A theory that also includes a correct quantum version of gravitational interactions has not yet been achieved.
  • The Standard Model is a well-established theory applicable over a wide range of conditions.

Elementary Particle

Any of the subatomic particles that compose matter and energy, especially one hypothesized or regarded as an irreducible constituent of matter. Also called fundamental particle or sub-atomic particle.

Sub-Atomic Particle

Any of various units of matter below the size of an atom, including the elementary particles and hadrons.

A particle that is less complex than an atom; regarded as constituents of all matter [syn: elementary particle, fundamental particle]


Discovered by Ernest Rutherford in 1911, the nucleus is the central part of an atom. Composed of protons and neutrons, the nucleus contains most of an atom’s mass.



  • Protons are positively charged particles found within atomic nuclei.
  • Ernest Rutherford discovered protons in experiments conducted between the years 1911 and 1919.
  • A stable, positively charged subatomic particle in the baryon family having a mass 1,836 times that of the electron.
  • A stable particle with positive charge equal to the negative charge of an electron.
  • Experiments done at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s showed that protons are made from other particles called quarks.
    Protons are made from two ‘up’ quarks and one ‘down’ quark.


Neutrons are uncharged particles found within atomic nuclei. James Chadwick discovered neutrons in 1932.

Experiments done at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s showed that neutrons are made from other particles called quarks. Neutrons are made from one ‘up’ quark and two ‘down’ quarks.


  • Electrons are negatively charged particles that surround the atom’s nucleus. J. J. Thomson discovered electrons in 1897.
  • The electron is the least massive electrically charged particle, therefore absolutely stable. It is the most common lepton with charge -1.
  • An electron is one of the fundamental particles in nature. Fundamental means that, as far as we know, an electron cannot be broken down into smaller particles (this concept is challenged by physicists looking for other particles).
  • Electrons are responsible for many of the phenomena that we observe in everyday life.
  • Mutual repulsion between electrons in the atoms of the floor and those within the shoes of a person’s feet prevents the person from sinking and disappearing into the floor.
  • Electrons carry electrical current and successful manipulation of electrons allows electronic devices to function.


Quarks are believed to be one of the basic building blocks of matter. They were first discovered in experiments done at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s.

Three families of quarks are known to exist. Each family contains two quarks.

  • The first family consists of Up and Down quarks, the quarks that join together to form protons and neutrons.
  • The second family consists of Strange and Charm quarks and only exists at high energies.
  • The third family consists of Top and Bottom quarks and only exists at very high energies. The Top quark was finally discovered in 1995 at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

For more on quarks:


Any of a class of subatomic particles that are composed of quarks and take part in the strong interaction.

Any particle made of quarks and gluons, i.e. a meson or a baryon. All such particles have no strong charge (i.e are strong charge neutral objects) but participate in residual strong interactions due to the strong charges of their constituents.

Hadrons are colourless objects that consist of three quarks of different colour (baryons), or of a quark-antiquark pair (mesons).


The carrier particle of the strong interaction. There are 8 different gluons with colour charge 2, i.e. the gluons are by themselves strongly interacting particles. Gluons bind quarks inside proton and other hadrons.


A hadron with the basic structure of one quark and one antiquark.

Mesons are color-neutral particles with a basic structure of one quark and one antiquark. There are no stable mesons. Mesons have integer (or zero) units of spin, and hence are bosons, which means that they do not obey Pauli exclusion principle rules.
For more on mesons, see:
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center:


A hadron made from a basic structure of three quarks. The proton and the neutron are both baryon. The antiproton and the antineutron are antibaryons.

The proton is the only baryon that is stable in isolation. Its basic structure is two up quarks and one down quark.

Neutrons are also baryons. Although neutrons are not stable in isolation, they can be stable inside certain nuclei. A neutron’s basic structure is two down quarks and one up quarks.


A fundamental matter particle that does not participate in strong interactions. The charge leptons are the electron, the muon, the tau and their antiparticles. Neutral leptons are called neutrinos.


Neutrino Detector


A fundamental particle with neutral charge and near-zero mass supposedly produced in massive numbers by the nuclear reactions in stars; they are very hard to detect since the vast majority of them pass completely through the Earth without interacting.

A lepton with no electric charge. Neutrinos participate only in weak and gravitational interactions and are therefore very difficult to detect. There are three known types of neutrinos (electron-, muon- and tau-neutrino), one for each family of elementary particles,all of which are very light but could have a non-zero mass as indicated e.g. by the solar neutrino deficit.


The carrier particle of the electromagnetic interaction.

  • A photon is one of the fundamental particle in nature and it plays an important role involving electron interactions.
  • Depending on its frequency (and therefore its energy) photons can have different names such as visible light, X rays and gamma rays.
  • Photons are the most familiar particles in everyday existence.
  • When we talk about “photons” we generally think of uncharged particles without mass that carry energy (there are other similar kinds of particles).
  • Low-energy forms are called ultraviolet rays, infrared rays, and radio waves.
  • Light, radiant heat and microwaves make use of photons of different energies.
  • An x-ray is a name given to the most energetic of these particles.


A process in which a particle decays or it responds to a force due to the presence of another particle (as in a collision).

Ion – Atomic particle, atom, or chemical radical bearing an electrical charge, either negative or positive.

Ionization – The process by which a neutral atom or molecule acquires a positive or negative charge.

Decay – Any process in which a particle disappears and in its place two or more different particles appear.

Forces and Interactions – All forces between objects are due to interactions. All particle decays are due to interactions. The four types fundamental interaction processes responsible for all observed processes are:

Strong interactions, responsible for forces between quarks and gluons and nuclear binding – The interaction responsible for binding quarks and gluons to make hadrons. Residual strong interactions provide the nuclear binding force. In nuclear physics the term strong interaction is also used for this residual effect. (As a parallel, the force between electrically charged particles is an electromagnetic interaction, the force between neutral atoms that leads to the formation of molecules is a residual electromagnetic effect.)

Electromagnetic interactions, responsible for electric and magnetic forces.

Weak interactions, responsible for the instability of all but the least massive fundamental particles in any class.

Gravitational interactions – responsible for forces between any two objects due to their energy (which, of course, includes their mass).

Electron Accelerator


Electrons carry electrical charge and successful manipulation of electrons allows electronic devices to function.

The picture and text on old-school video terminals used to be caused by electrons being accelerated and focused onto the inside of the CRT screen, where a phosphor absorbed the electrons and light was produced. A classic television screen is a simple, low-energy example of an electron accelerator (LCD and Plasma have almost completely replaced this application of accelerating electrons).  A typical medical electron accelerator used in medical radiation therapy is about 1000 times more powerful than a color television set.

The Ultimate Scientific Experiment

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. It first started up on 10 September 2008, and remains the latest addition to CERN’s accelerator complex. The LHC consists of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way.


The Large Hadron Collider: Unlocking secrets to benefit the Future of Human Evolution.

Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide. The beams travel in opposite directions in separate beam pipes – two tubes kept at ultrahigh vacuum. They are guided around the accelerator ring by a strong magnetic field maintained by superconducting electromagnets. The electromagnets are built from coils of special electric cable that operates in a superconducting state, efficiently conducting electricity without resistance or loss of energy. This requires chilling the magnets to ‑271.3°C – a temperature colder than outer space.

Accelerators at CERN boost particles to high energies before they are made to collide inside detectors. The detectors gather clues about the particles – including their speed, mass and charge – from which physicists can work out a particle’s identity. The process requires accelerators, powerful electromagnets, and layer upon layer of complex subdetectors.

Particles produced in collisions normally travel in straight lines, but in the presence of a magnetic field their paths become curved. Electromagnets around particle detectors generate magnetic fields to exploit this effect. Physicists can calculate the momentum of a particle – a clue to its identity – from the curvature of its path: particles with high momentum travel in almost straight lines, whereas those with very low momentum move forward in tight spirals inside the detector.


Particle Physics

The Standard Model

Below is complicated diagram of what can be a complicated discussion. But unless you’re a budding physicist you don’t really need to understand every particle spin, interaction and result to understand the broad concepts we’ll be talking about on this site. And I’m quite convinced that it is the intentional convoluted naming convention (and lack thereof) that makes particle physics somewhat challenging rather than the concepts it tries to explain.

This article then, is intended to familiarize the uninitiated with the terminology of the basic sub-atomic particles in the standard model. Maybe it will help you get through your next read of a scientific journal article, or maybe just a cocktail party with your favorite particle physicist. In any event, hopefully you’ll know more than 90% of the world population after reading this simple introduction.

If you will indulge my memory device, though corny as most of them are, it is effective and has enabled students to remember the fundamentals after just one review.

When looking at the diagram, keep in mind this simple set of facts: There are two types of building blocks to the physical universe, bosons and fermions.

  • Bosons are the particles that are responsible for the forces described by the standard model.
  • Fermions are the particles that make up matter.
  • Fermions exchange bosons to interact.


To solidify that most fundamental of all facts (from what is known today!) and its terminology in your mind, You may want to think of the Fermilab particle accelerator in Chicago that I happen to know has free range bison grazing its grounds. Bison are powerful (forceful) animals located throughout the Fermilab campus (a real place with a physical structure composed of matter).

Concreate Fermilab represents Fermion Matter, with the Forceful Bison representing Boson the Force

Concrete Fermilab/Fermion Matter – Forceful Bison and Boson the Force


Force/Matter Memory Device

The Four Forces

Gravity – the most common sense and observable force in everyday life is not explained by the standard model.  We’ll be covering that massive hole in human knowledge and what’s being done to remedy it on other pages in this section.  For now let us focus on the forces that are predicted and explained by the standard model.

Electromagnetism – light, magnets, electricity etc. This one’s easiest to remember. It affects the charge of protons and neutrons and allows them to attract to form atoms. You may not have known that the actual force is carried by the photon. When two electrons interact, they repel each other, exchanging photons. The electromagnetism force has Infinite range.

Strong (nuclear) Force – Holds the building blocks of matter together, strong but short range. If we extend the metaphor of the physical structure of Fermilab being constructed of Fermions, we’ll say it is made out of Quarks (think odd-shaped bricks), and the force that holds it together is still the bison (boson), but only the bison’s very strong hide processed into glue (the gluon).

Weak (nuclear) Force – Responsible for various kinds of radioactive decay. Staying with our bison/Fermilab metaphor, let’s say that the people of all shapes and sizes inside the Fermilab structure represent all sorts of particles.  The Wily bison Zealously maintain their presence around the structure, forcing weak people (particles) and their puny energy out of the structure (radioactivity). The bosons responsible for this force? Why the Wily “W” and the Zealous “Z”, of course.

Here’s our Story

And we’re sticking to it!

Fermilab, constructed of odd-shaped bricks is strongly held together with bison-based glu on them, and is surrounded by Wily, forceful bison who Zealously force weak people with their little energy to leave.


Fermion quarks have physical mass and are held together by the strong force boson gluon. The W and Z bosons are responsible for the weak force radiation as particles leave an atomic structure.

Protons, Electrons, and Neutrons (oh my!)

Protons, electrons, and neutrons, as I’m sure you were taught in high school, are the basic building blocks of atomic-level matter. You remember, the elemental chart? Let’s put together our knowledge of subatomic particles to get to the real matter (pun intended).

Going back to our complicated-looking particle chart, we understand what the W & Z and gluon bosons do (weak and strong forces respectively), and that matter is made up of fermion quarks. We haven’t covered any of the fermion leptons so we’re about to find out what that tiny, most useful of all leptons does, the electron.

Very nearly everything in the physical (i.e. touchable) universe, including you, is made up of just three fermions, two types of quark and a lepton, the electron.  There are several more fermions, but these three matter particles comprise nearly all of the mass in our known universe and will suffice for this lesson.

The two most prevalent quarks are known as ‘up’ and ‘down’.  And when viewed along side the electron, all three possess a unique electrical charge important to how they combine to create the basic building blocks of an atom:

  • Up quarks carry a positive two thirds charge (+2/3).
  • Down quarks carry a negative one third charge (-1/3).
  • Electrons carry a ‘whole’ negative charge (-1).

Depending on how these three quarks combine, you can get a particle with a whole negative charge (the electron), a whole positive charge (the proton), or no charge at all (the neutron). A bit of simple math shows us how this works.

  • Electrons are a fermion lepton, not made up of anything smaller. With a full negative charge that is (-1) + (nothing) = -1
  • Protons are made of two up quarks (+2/3) + (+2/3) =+4/3 and one down quark (-1/3).  Add the negative third charge of the down quark and you get a particle with a full positive charge (+4/3) + (-1/3) = (+3/3) =+1
  • Neutrons are made of two down quarks and one up quark.  Adding these together we see that the charges cancel each other out and we get no charge at all: (+2/3) + (-1/3) + (-1/3) = 0.

Stylized Hydrogen Atom

So there we have it. Three basic particles, a proton with a full, positive charge (+1); an electron with a full negative charge (-1); and a neutron with no effective electrical charge.

Various combinations of these three particles pretty much make up all matter in our physical universe – things that have mass and can be touched.  One electron circling a single proton makes hydrogen, the most basic atomic structure and the most abundant element in the universe. All you have to do to get every other element conceivable, simply add protons, neutrons and electrons!

For the astute, or for those who are gluttons for punishment, you will have noticed that we completely skipped the odd-hanging Higgs boson shown on our diagram. Incorrectly shown with a question mark next to its mass, scientists confirmed it existence since the chart was drawn. Rather than being the oft-touted god particle, its a rather innocuous particle, the ramifications of which will be dealt with in another article. Once I get over the huge personal disappointment of this lackluster discovery.

Intro Video before the Higgs was discovered.

Silliest, yet most straight forward description of the Higgs Boson

Without all the nonsensical god references. Physicist believe the Higgs gives the other particles Mass.  Referring back to our standard model at the top and the video you’re about to watch, Justin Beiber is a Quark and the teenaged girls are the many Higgs floating about in space.

The Universe

Particle Physics, Cosmology, Astrobiology, and Aliens

According to one source, there are currently about 75 well-defined, traditional scientific fields of study [1].  All of these strive to elucidate our understanding of all or part of the universe. On this site we have selected a few key sciences (and resulting technologies) that we think will have the most impact on mankind’s long-term future, i.e. the future of human evolution.

Aliens-and-the-future-of-human-evolutionIn this particular section, “The Universe”, we have associated three scientific fields we find particularly interesting and relevant to our collective future.  By now you’re probably asking yourself what Particle Physics, Cosmology, Astrobiology, Aliens, and the future of human evolution have in common.  We have an answer.

Particle physics strives to understand the very fabric of space and time.  The fundamental building blocks of the cosmos a.k.a the universe.

Cosmology is the study of the origin and evolution of the universe, from the Big Bang to today and on into the future. From a sentient being perspective (supposedly that’s you and I) the origin and evolution of life in the universe is of paramount importance.   In fact, there’s a whole field of study focusing, on a cosmic scale, on that very thing: the origin and evolution of life in the universe. It’s called Astrobiology.

Astrobiology is the study of the living universe; its past, present, and future. It starts with investigating life on Earth, the only place where life is known to exist, and extends into the farthest reaches of the cosmos. It ranges in time from the big bang and continues on into the future.  Astrobiology covers a diverse range of topics which can be categorized under major questions: Where did life come from? What is its future? Are we alone in the universe? [2]

…and we arrive at aliens. Ha!


[2] NASA Astrobiology Definition

Inside “The Universe”

Particle Physics

Learn the fundamentals of the Standard Model – stay tuned for an exploration of the almost infinite number of possibilities and attempts at providing explanations for just the things we know we don’t know (such as gravity). Are particles particles at all?


Space, time, and the fate of earth and the universe are inexorably linked to the future of human evolution.


Find out what is happening on the scientific front to find life in the universe, like SETI and the Kepler Telescope.


More and more scientists across all disciplines are opening up to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is discovering the extreme conditions under which life can exist. The Kepler telescope delivered the astounding news that planets, including earth-like and those in the “habitable zone” are more abundant than even the most optimistic of us anticipated.