The strangeness and charm of subatomic particles

Written by: Captain Skellett // June 7th, 2010 // How Things Work, Jibber Jabber, The Realm of Bizzare

In early high school I was told an atom was the smallest piece of matter in the universe. If you divided matter into pieces as small as they could be, the smallest piece would be one atom. Utter BS, according to later high school years. An atom is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons can be further divided into quarks.

When I get to reading about subatomic physics and chem I quickly get confused and frustrated. My love is for the elegant simplicity of chemical reactions, effervescence, fluorescence, quenching and conjugation. Quarks are not so simple.

There are six flavours of quarks, and yes, “flavour” really is the technical word for it. They are called up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm. A proton is made of two up quarks and one down quark. A neutron has two down quarks and an up quark.

The quarks were discovered by particle accelerators. Strange quarks are found in cosmic ray particles with a strangely long lifespan. Charm quarks are charmed because they complete the symmetry of the quark set. Top and bottom quarks are similar to up and down, and were originally called truth and beauty. The top quark has a mass almost as much as an atom of gold, which is pretty dang heavy!

Pictured above, UK band Florence and the Machine has written a new song about love and quarks. It’s called Strangeness and Charm and has only been played live. Here is the best quality audio I’ve been able to find of it, I’d love to see it live. There are rumours that her new album is science-inspired, can’t wait to hear it.

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google


4 Responses to “The strangeness and charm of subatomic particles”

  1. James says:

    I just taught my 8th graders about atom’s today, and made sure to say that atoms are the smallest piece that retains the properties of the larger element. Make sense?

    Indrasen Reply:


    I believe that the sense of something also depends on the kind of audience you are projecting an idea to. Though, it would be quite interesting to do away with the ‘intuitive’ classical description and start off from the very beginning with a ‘quantum’ description. That might represent a paradigm shift.

    Aye, ‘twould be an interesting experiment if nothing else.

    Been thinking about it… and I don’t know if it makes sense for a single gold atom to retain properties like malleability, shine and that sort of thing. I like the way you’re thinking though, may need to tinker with the wording.

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