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elementary particles

Standard Model of Particle Physics

The behavior of all known subatomic particles can be described within a single theoretical framework called the Standard Model. This model incorporates the quarks and leptons as well as their interactions through the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces. Only gravity remains outside the Standard Model. The force-carrying particles are called gauge bosons, and they differ fundamentally from the quarks and leptons. The fundamental forces appear to behave very differently in ordinary matter, but the Standard Model indicates that they are basically very similar when matter is in a high-energy environment.

Although the Standard Model does a credible job in explaining the interactions among quarks, leptons, and bosons, the theory does not include an important property of elementary particles, their mass. The lightest particle is the electron and the heaviest particle is believed to be the top quark, which weighs at least 200,000 times as much as an electron. In 1964 several physicists working independently proposed a mechanism that provided a way to explain how these fundamental particles could have mass. They theorized that the whole of space is permeated by a field, now called the Higgs field, similar in some ways to the electromagnetic field. As particles move through space they travel through this field, and if they interact with it they acquire what appears to be mass. A basic part of quantum theory is wave-particle duality—all fields have particles associated with them. The particle associated with the Higgs field is the Higgs particle or Higgs boson, a particle with no intrinsic spin or electrical charge. Although it is called a boson, it does not mediate force as do the other bosons (see below). Finding it was the key to discovering whether the Higgs field exists, whether hypothesis for the origin of mass was indeed correct, and whether the Standard Model would survive. Data from Fermilab and CERN experiments suggested that the Higgs particle existed, and in 2012 CERN scientists announced the discovery of a new elementary particle consistent with a Higgs particle; CERN confirmed the discovery in 2013. Some theorists have proposed, as a result of experiments at Fermilab in which a greater matter-antimatter asymmetry occured than would be expected under the Standard Model, that there might be multiple Higgs particles with different charges.

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

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