Breakthrough discovery at CERN

By | Science & Technology
Tetraquarks credit @James Herman via Flickr.com

Particle physics is a relatively new concept in the physical world. Many key physicists such as Rutherford, Planck and Dirac have helped us to understand more about what matter is made up of. The objects that we use every day, the air we breathe – everything is made up of atoms, only in different configurations. The work done by CERN at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has allowed us to learn even more about particles and other phenomena that were thought to be theoretically possible yet unproven. Scientists have now found a brand new fundamental particle using the LHC, and this may lead to many more scientific discoveries.

Matter is made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. Electrons themselves are very tiny, whilst protons and neutrons are  comparatively massive. This is because they are made up of fundamental particles called quarks, particles which are made up of these fundamental particles are called hadrons. Quarks make up other particles such as muons that are present in cosmic waves from space, as well as in these well-known particles. There are six flavours of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, charm and strange, as well as their anti-quarks. The different combinations of these quarks make up different particles. Up to now there were only supposed to be two groups of quark configurations – those made up of a quark-antiquark pair called mesons, and those made up of three quarks called baryons. Protons are baryons and are made up of two up quarks and a down quark, neutrons are also baryons and are made up of one up quark and two down quarks.

LHC Credit @ Christophe Dalaere via Flickr.com

LHC Credit @ Christophe Dalaere via Flickr.com

Scientists have found evidence of a tetraquark configuration called Z(4430) which are made up of four quarks. This opposes the current models and opens many doors for discoveries of other particles such as this. The LHC has allowed the theory to become a reality, as the conditions are suitable for the tetraquarks to be detected. There are many reasons why so few sightings have been made of Z(4430), one of which being its miniscule half life. The half life of a particle is how long it takes to decay to half of its initial amount, and in the case of this particle its life time is so short that it is extremely challenging to detect. Although other facilities have found particles such as this before, such an abundance of the anomalous particles is a new occurrence.

The development into the understanding of Z(4430) has also lead the team of scientists at CERN to gain knowledge of another possible tetraquark Y(4140), and further investigations are being initialised for the search for more particles like these. This discovery is a huge breakthrough for particle physics. It will lead to a greater understanding into other configurations of quarks, and also help us learn more about the characteristics of the fundamental quarks that we know very little about. The increasing efforts of CERN and other facilities around the world are allowing us to know more about our universe and everything in it, including the tiniest components of matter. With public figure head Brian Cox in the media, popular science including particle physics is becoming more mainstream. We are now at a time where discoveries are occurring that were once thought to be only theoretical when they were first published. The developed technology that we have now is slowly allowing extraordinary finds to become a lot more common and this is expected to carry on in the future.

How can scientists use this discovery to find yet more particles and subatomic matter?

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