Particle Zoo: The Higgs Boson For Sale

Collect them all! The Standard Model of plushie particles (© Particle Zoo & Julie Peasley)

Collect them all! The Standard Model of plushie particles (© Particle Zoo & Julie Peasley)

Astroengine exclusive interview with Particle Zoo founder, Julie Peasley

The hunt for the Higgs particle may have come to grinding halt until 2009, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discover the elusive particle for yourself. In fact, it’s not just the Higgs boson that awaits discovery in the zoo of Standard Model particles. And what a zoo it is! We have protons, neutrons, the quarks that make up said hadrons; plus all the force carriers, neutrinos, photons, electrons and anti-particles. There is a delicious and varied array of subatomic particles out there, but they are too small for us to see. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what these quanta actually look like?

It seems that Particle Zookeeper Julie Peasley has an intimate connection with the tiny “beings” that make up all known matter in the Universe. She has single-handedly set up her own business putting faces to the complex particles, giving us a unique view into the quantum world we would otherwise forget in the soup of theoretical physics equations. The Particle Zoo is a Los Angeles company, where Julie brings particles to life in her “sweatshop of one,” sewing beautifully-made plushie toys of all the Standard Model particles so we can collect them all…
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A Strange Connection: Could Nuclear Decay Rates be Influenced by Distance From the Sun?

The decay rate of the radioactive isotope 32Si appears to correlate with orbital distance from the Sun (Jenkins et al. 2008)

The decay rate of the radioactive isotope 32Si appears to correlate with orbital distance from the Sun (Jenkins et al. 2008)

Wouldn’t you think that the decay rates of isotopes found on Earth would remain fairly constant under controlled conditions? Statistically-speaking one would be able to make a pretty good prediction about a radioactive element’s decay rate at any point in the future, regardless of external influences. However, a group of researchers have found the radioisotope decay rates of radium (226Ra) and silicon (32Si) varies periodically. This may not seem strange at first, but when measured, this fluctuation in decay rate has a period of approximately a year. Does this relate to the Earth’s position in its orbit? Does this mean radioactive decay rates are influenced depending on how far the element is from the Sun? Perhaps decay rates are not as predictable as we think…
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What is the Higgs Boson?

Artist rendition of Higgs bosons generated after a particle collision. Created for Niels Bohr institute by artist-in-residence Mette Høst

Billions of Euros have been ploughed into the construction of the largest experiment known in the history of mankind. The Large Hadron Collider (officially due to be “switched on” September 10th 2008) will eventually create proton-proton collision energies near the 14 TeV mark by the end of this decade. This is all highly impressive; already the applications of the LHC appear to be endless, probing smaller and smaller scales with bigger and bigger energies. But how did the LHC secure all that funding? After all, the most expensive piece of lab equipment must be built with a purpose? Although the aims are varied and far-reaching, the LHC has one key task to achieve: Discover the Higgs Boson, the world’s most sought-after particle. If discovered, key theories in particle physics and quantum dynamics will be proven. If it isn’t found by the LHC, perhaps our theories are wrong, and our view of the Universe needs to be revolutionized… or the LHC needs to be more powerful.

Either way, the LHC will revolutionize all facets of physics. But what is the Higgs boson? And why in the hell is it so important?
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Do Hadrons Feel Pain?

Catchy slogan at the protest (BBSpot)

Or else... what? (BBSpot)

Hold on, I’ve just found out some worrying news from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This mammoth experiment goes online in one month and two days and I don’t think we’ve fully grasped what this machine is going to do.

It will kill hadrons, by their millions.

I know, I felt the same way. What kind of deprived mind would think up such a plan? There we are being told by the physicists that colliding hadrons at high energies will somehow benefit mankind. We are also being told by the doomsayers that the LHC will create a micro black hole, killing us all. But so far there has been little thought for the tiny elemental particles caught in the middle of all this. Do you think they want to be accelerated to the point where they resemble a wave more than a particle? No. Do you think they want to be bashed at high speed, splattering their innards around the inside of a detector chamber? No.

Please, spare a thought for all those innocent quarks, they don’t have a voice…

(Oh dear, here we go again…)
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New Exotic Particle May Explain Milky Way Gamma-Ray Phenomenon

Chandra observation of Cassiopeia A, a young supernova remnant in our galaxy - a prominent source of high-energy particles (NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M. D. Stage et al.)

Chandra observation of Cassiopeia A, a young supernova remnant in our galaxy - a prominant source of high-energy particles (NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M. D. Stage et al.)

There is something strange happening in the core of the Milky Way. A space observatory measuring the energy and distribution of gamma-rays in the cosmos has made an unexpected (and perplexing) discovery. It would seem there is a very high proportion of gamma-ray photons emanating from our galactic core with a very distinctive signature; they have a precise energy of 511 keV (8×10-14 Joules), and there’s a lot of them. So what could possibly be producing these 511 keV gamma-rays? It turns out, 511 keV is a magic number; it is the exact rest mass energy of a positron (the antimatter particle of the electron). So this is fairly conclusive evidence that positrons are dying (i.e. annihilating) in vast numbers in our galactic nuclei. Still, this is of little help to astrophysicists as there is no known mechanism for producing such high numbers of annihilating positrons. Ideas have been put forward, but there’s a new possibility, involving some new particle physics and some lateral thinking…
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Will the LHC Peel Open Some New Dimensions?

A possible visualization of microscopic extra dimensions. Source: http://www.physto.se/~troms/

A possible visualization of microscopic extra dimensions. Source: http://www.physto.se/~troms/

As we near the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC) maiden relativistic collision later this year, speculation and excitement continues to mount. There are a host of possibilities as to what we may observe from the most powerful, focused collisions ever carried out in a laboratory environment. Fundamentally, the search for the Higgs boson will be taken to a new level, but there may be a few surprises for the particle physicists analysing the detector data. What if the LHC uncovers an alternative to the Higgs boson? What if the “standard model” of quantum theory isn’t to a universal standard? Putting the Higgs boson to one side, forgetting the exciting possibility of a micro-black hole (and confirmation of Hawking Radiation) and leaving the production of wormholes and stranglets in the “unlikely” drawer, what possibility intrigues me the most? The discovery of microscopic, curled-up dimensions the LHC may unravel as it focuses its energy on scales previously unthinkable…
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Are Primordial Black Holes Antimatter Factories?

A black hole, artist impression (NASA)

A black hole, artist impression (NASA)

Could small, primordial black holes be efficient antimatter generators? It is well known that cool planetary bodies, surrounded by equal numbers of protons and electrons in thermal equilibrium, will eventually become positively charged. Why? Because electrons, with their low mass, have a higher velocity than the larger protons. Although they undergo the same gravitational acceleration, electrons are able to attain “escape velocity” more readily as the more massive protons get stuck in the gravitational well. The result? The planet has a net positive charge as more electrons, than proton escape into space.

Primordial black holes are thought to exist in our Universe (left-overs from the Big Bang), and although they may be small, they may influence ionized cosmic clouds in the same way, more electrons escape than protons left behind. However, should a threshold be reached, the extreme gravitational force surrounding the black hole could set up a powerful electrostatic field, kick-starting a strange quantum phenomenon that generates the electron’s anti-matter partner (the positron) from the vacuum of space…
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