Tech

four new debris had been discovered at CERN — they usually may crack the secrets and techniques of nature’s regulations

This month is a time to celebrate. CERN has just announced the discovery of four brand-new particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. This means that the LHC has now found a total of 59 new particles, in addition to the Nobel prize-winning Higgs boson, since it started colliding protons – particles that make up the atomic nucleus along with neutrons – in 2009. Excitingly, while some of these new particles were expected based on our established theories, some were altogether more surprising.

The LHC’s goal is to explore the structure of matter at the shortest distances and highest energies ever probed in the lab – testing our current best theory of nature: the Standard Model of Particle Physics. And the LHC has delivered the goods – it enabled scientists to discover the Higgs boson, the last missing piece of the model. That said, the theory is still far from being fully understood.

One of its most troublesome features is its description of the strong force which holds the atomic nucleus together. The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons, which are in turn each composed of three tiny particles called quarks (there are six different kinds of quarks: up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom). If we switched the strong force off for a second, all matter would immediately disintegrate into a soup of loose quarks – a state that existed for a fleeting instant at the beginning of the universe.

Don’t get us wrong: the theory of the strong interaction, pretentiously called “quantum chromodynamics,” is on very solid footing. It describes how quarks interact through the strong force by exchanging particles called gluons. You can think of gluons as analogs of the more familiar photon, the particle of light and carrier of the electromagnetic force.

However, the way gluons interact with quarks makes the strong force behave very differently from electromagnetism. While the electromagnetic force gets weaker as you pull two charged particles apart, the strong force actually gets stronger as you pull two quarks apart. As a result, quarks are forever locked up inside particles called hadrons – particles made of two or more quarks – which includes protons and neutrons. Unless, of course, you smash them open at incredible speeds, as we are doing at CERN.

To complicate matters further, all the particles in the standard model have antiparticles that are nearly identical to themselves but with the opposite charge (or other quantum property). If you pull a quark out of a proton, the force will eventually be strong enough to create a quark-antiquark pair, with the newly created quark going into the proton. You end up with a proton and a brand new “meson,” a particle made of a quark and an antiquark. This may sound weird but according to quantum mechanics, which rules the universe on the smallest of scales, particles can pop out of empty space.

This has been shown repeatedly by experiments – we have never seen a lone quark. An unpleasant feature of the theory of the strong force is that calculations of what would be a simple process in electromagnetism can end up being impossibly complicated. We therefore cannot (yet) prove theoretically that quarks can’t exist on their own. Worse still, we can’t even calculate which combinations of quarks would be viable in nature and which would not.

Illustration of a tetraquark.