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elementary particles

Classification of Elementary Particles

Two types of statistics are used to describe elementary particles, and the particles are classified on the basis of which statistics they obey. Fermi-Dirac statistics apply to those particles restricted by the Pauli exclusion principle; particles obeying the Fermi-Dirac statistics are known as fermions. Leptons and quarks are fermions. Two fermions are not allowed to occupy the same quantum state. Bose-Einstein statistics apply to all particles not covered by the exclusion principle, and such particles are known as bosons. The number of bosons in a given quantum state is not restricted. In general, fermions compose nuclear and atomic structure, while bosons act to transmit forces between fermions; the photon, gluon, and the W and Z particles are bosons.

Basic categories of particles have also been distinguished according to other particle behavior. The strongly interacting particles were classified as either mesons or baryons; it is now known that mesons consist of quark-antiquark pairs and that baryons consist of quark triplets. The meson class members are more massive than the leptons but generally less massive than the proton and neutron, although some mesons are heavier than these particles. The lightest members of the baryon class are the proton and neutron, and the heavier members are known as hyperons. In the meson and baryon classes are included a number of particles that cannot be detected directly because their lifetimes are so short that they leave no tracks in a cloud chamber or bubble chamber. These particles are known as resonances, or resonance states, because of an analogy between their manner of creation and the resonance of an electrical circuit.

See table entitled Elementary Particles.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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