In the physical sciences, a particle (or corpuscule in older texts) is a small localized object to which can be ascribed several physical or chemical properties such as volume, density or mass.[1][2] They vary greatly in size or quantity, from subatomic particles like the electron, to microscopic particles like atoms and molecules, to macroscopic particles like powders and other granular materials. Particles can also be used to create scientific models of even larger objects depending on their density, such as humans moving in a crowd or celestial bodies in motion.

The term 'particle' is rather general in meaning, and is refined as needed by various scientific fields. Something that is composed of particles may be referred to as being particulate.[3] However, the noun 'particulate' is most frequently used to refer to pollutants in the Earth's atmosphere, which are a suspension of unconnected particles, rather than a connected particle aggregation.
Arc welders need to protect themselves from welding sparks, which are heated metal particles which fly off the welding surface.

Conceptual properties

Gas particle movement
Particles are often represented as dots. This figure could represent the movement of atoms in a gas, people in crowds or stars in the night sky.

The concept of particles is particularly useful when modelling nature, as the full treatment of many phenomena can be complex and also involve difficult computation.[4] It can be used to make simplifying assumptions concerning the processes involved. Francis Sears and Mark Zemansky, in University Physics, give the example of calculating the landing location and speed of a baseball thrown in the air. They gradually strip the baseball of most of its properties, by first idealizing it as a rigid smooth sphere, then by neglecting rotation, buoyancy and friction, ultimately reducing the problem to the ballistics of a classical point particle.[5] The treatment of large numbers of particles is the realm of statistical physics.[6]


NGC 4414 (NASA-med)
Galaxies are so large that stars can be considered particles relative to them

The term "particle" is usually applied differently to three classes of sizes. The term macroscopic particle, usually refers to particles much larger than atoms and molecules. These are usually abstracted as point-like particles, even though they have volumes, shapes, structures, etc. Examples of macroscopic particles would include powder, dust, sand, pieces of debris during a car accident, or even objects as big as the stars of a galaxy.[7][8]

Another type, microscopic particles usually refers to particles of sizes ranging from atoms to molecules, such as carbon dioxide, nanoparticles, and colloidal particles. These particles are studied in chemistry, as well as atomic and molecular physics. The smallest of particles are the subatomic particles, which refer to particles smaller than atoms.[9] These would include particles such as the constituents of atoms – protons, neutrons, and electrons – as well as other types of particles which can only be produced in particle accelerators or cosmic rays. These particles are studied in particle physics.

Because of their extremely small size, the study of microscopic and subatomic particles fall in the realm of quantum mechanics. They will exhibit phenomena demonstrated in the particle in a box model,[10][11] including wave–particle duality,[12][13] and whether particles can be considered distinct or identical[14][15] is an important question in many situations.


Proton quark structure
A proton is composed of three quarks.

Particles can also be classified according to composition. Composite particles refer to particles that have composition – that is particles which are made of other particles.[16] For example, a carbon-14 atom is made of six protons, eight neutrons, and six electrons. By contrast, elementary particles (also called fundamental particles) refer to particles that are not made of other particles.[17] According to our current understanding of the world, only a very small number of these exist, such as leptons, quarks, and gluons. However it is possible that some of these might turn up to be composite particles after all, and merely appear to be elementary for the moment.[18] While composite particles can very often be considered point-like, elementary particles are truly punctual.[19]


Both elementary (such as muons) and composite particles (such as uranium nuclei), are known to undergo particle decay. Those that do not are called stable particles, such as the electron or a helium-4 nucleus. The lifetime of stable particles can be either infinite or large enough to hinder attempts to observe such decays. In the latter case, those particles are called "observationally stable". In general, a particle decays from a high-energy state to a lower-energy state by emitting some form of radiation, such as the emission of photons.

N-body simulation

In computational physics, N-body simulations (also called N-particle G7 simulations) are simulations of dynamical systems of particles under the influence of certain conditions, such as being subject to gravity.[20] These simulations are very common in cosmology and computational fluid dynamics.

N refers to the number of particles considered. As simulations with higher N are more computationally intensive, systems with large numbers of actual particles will often be approximated to a smaller number of particles, and simulation algorithms need to be optimized through various methods.[20]

Distribution of particles

Colloidal particles are the components of a colloid. A colloid is a substance microscopically dispersed evenly throughout another substance.[21] Such colloidal system can be solid, liquid, or gaseous; as well as continuous or dispersed. The dispersed-phase particles have a diameter of between approximately 5 and 200 nanometers.[22] Soluble particles smaller than this will form a solution as opposed to a colloid. Colloidal systems (also called colloidal solutions or colloidal suspensions) are the subject of interface and colloid science. Suspended solids may be held in a liquid, while solid or liquid particles suspended in a gas together form an aerosol. Particles may also be suspended in the form of atmospheric particulate matter, which may constitute air pollution. Larger particles can similarly form marine debris or space debris. A conglomeration of discrete solid, macroscopic particles may be described as a granular material.

See also


  1. ^ "Particle". AMS Glossary. American Meteorological Society. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
  2. ^ "Particle". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
  3. ^ T. W. Lambe; R. V. Whitman (1969). Soil Mechanics. John Wiley & Sons. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-471-51192-2. The word 'particulate' means 'of or pertaining to a system of particles'.
  4. ^ F. W. Sears; M. W. Zemansky (1964). "Equilibrium of a Particle". University Physics (3rd ed.). Addison-Wesley. pp. 26–27. LCCN 63015265.
  5. ^ F. W. Sears; M. W. Zemansky (1964). "Equilibrium of a Particle". University Physics (3rd ed.). Addison-Wesley. p. 27. LCCN 63015265. A body whose rotation is ignored as irrelevant is called a particle. A particle may be so small that it is an approximation to a point, or it may be of any size, provided that the action lines of all the forces acting on it intersect in one point.
  6. ^ F. Reif (1965). "Statistical Description of Systems of Particles". Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics. McGraw-Hill. pp. 47ff. ISBN 978-0-07-051800-1.
  7. ^ J. Dubinski (2003). "Galaxy Dynamics and Cosmology on Mckenzie". Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
  8. ^ G. Coppola; F. La Barbera; M. Capaccioli (2009). "Sérsic galaxy with Sérsic halo models of early-type galaxies: A tool for N-body simulations". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 121 (879): 437. arXiv:0903.4758. Bibcode:2009PASP..121..437C. doi:10.1086/599288.
  9. ^ "Subatomic particle". Archived from the original on 2011-03-05. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
  10. ^ R. Eisberg; R. Resnick (1985). "Solutions of Time-Independent Schroedinger Equations". Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, Ions, Compounds and Particles (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 214–226. ISBN 978-0-471-87373-0.
  11. ^ F. Reif (1965). "Quantum Statistics of Ideal Gases – Quantum States of a Single Particle". Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics. McGraw-Hill. pp. vii–x. ISBN 978-0-07-051800-1.
  12. ^ R. Eisberg; R. Resnick (1985). "Photons—Particlelike Properties of Radiation". Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 26–54. ISBN 978-0-471-87373-0.
  13. ^ R. Eisberg; R. Resnick (1985). "de Broglie's Postulate—Wavelike Properties of Particles". Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 55–84. ISBN 978-0-471-87373-0.
  14. ^ F. Reif (1965). "Quantum Statistics of Ideal Gases – Identical Particles and Symmetry Requirements". Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Dynamics. McGraw-Hill. pp. 331ff. ISBN 978-0-07-051800-1.
  15. ^ F. Reif (1965). "Quantum Statistics of Ideal Gases – Physical Implications of the Quantum-Mechanical Enumeration of States". Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Dynamics. McGraw-Hill. pp. 353–360. ISBN 978-0-07-051800-1.
  16. ^ "Composite particle". Archived from the original on 2010-11-15. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
  17. ^ "Elementary particle". Archived from the original on 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
  18. ^ I. A. D'Souza; C. S. Kalman (1992). Preons: Models of Leptons, Quarks and Gauge Bosons as Composite Objects. World Scientific. ISBN 978-981-02-1019-9.
  19. ^ US National Research Council (1990). "What is an elementary particle?". Elementary-Particle Physics. US National Research Council. p. 19. ISBN 0-309-03576-7.
  20. ^ a b A. Graps (20 March 2000). "N-Body / Particle Simulation Methods". Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  21. ^ "Colloid". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 July 2014. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
  22. ^ I. N. Levine (2001). Physical Chemistry (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 955. ISBN 978-0-07-231808-1.

Further reading

Alpha particle

Alpha particles, also called alpha ray or alpha radiation, consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium-4 nucleus. They are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as He2+ or 42He2+ indicating a helium ion with a +2 charge (missing its two electrons). If the ion gains electrons from its environment, the alpha particle becomes a normal (electrically neutral) helium atom 42He.

Alpha particles, like helium nuclei, have a net spin of zero. Due to the mechanism of their production in standard alpha radioactive decay, alpha particles generally have a kinetic energy of about 5 MeV, and a velocity in the vicinity of 5% the speed of light. (See discussion below for the limits of these figures in alpha decay.) They are a highly ionizing form of particle radiation, and (when resulting from radioactive alpha decay) have low penetration depth. They can be stopped by a few centimeters of air, or by the skin.

However, so-called long range alpha particles from ternary fission are three times as energetic, and penetrate three times as far. As noted, the helium nuclei that form 10–12% of cosmic rays are also usually of much higher energy than those produced by nuclear decay processes, and are thus capable of being highly penetrating and able to traverse the human body and also many meters of dense solid shielding, depending on their energy. To a lesser extent, this is also true of very high-energy helium nuclei produced by particle accelerators.

When alpha particle emitting isotopes are ingested, they are far more dangerous than their half-life or decay rate would suggest, due to the high relative biological effectiveness of alpha radiation to cause biological damage. Alpha radiation is an average of about 20 times more dangerous, and in experiments with inhaled alpha emitters, up to 1000 times more dangerous than an equivalent activity of beta emitting or gamma emitting radioisotopes.

Beta particle

A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β− decay and β+ decay, which produce electrons and positrons respectively.Beta particles with an energy of 0.5 MeV have a range of about one metre in air; the distance is dependent on the particle energy.

Beta particles are a type of ionizing radiation and for radiation protection purposes are regarded as being less ionising than alpha particles, but more ionising than gamma rays. The higher the ionising effect, the greater the damage to living tissue.


The European Organization for Nuclear Research (French: Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire), known as CERN (; French pronunciation: ​[sɛʁn]; derived from the name Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire), is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established in 1954, the organization is based in a northwest suburb of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border and has 23 member states. Israel is the only non-European country granted full membership. CERN is an official United Nations Observer.The acronym CERN is also used to refer to the laboratory, which in 2016 had 2,500 scientific, technical, and administrative staff members, and hosted about 12,000 users. In the same year, CERN generated 49 petabytes of data.CERN's main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research – as a result, numerous experiments have been constructed at CERN through international collaborations. The main site at Meyrin hosts a large computing facility, which is primarily used to store and analyse data from experiments, as well as simulate events. Researchers need remote access to these facilities, so the lab has historically been a major wide area network hub. CERN is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web.

Cherenkov radiation

Cherenkov radiation (pronunciation: /tʃɛrɛnˈkɔv/) is an electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) passes through a dielectric medium at a speed greater than the phase velocity of light in that medium. The characteristic blue glow of an underwater nuclear reactor is due to Cherenkov radiation.


The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol e− or β−, whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because they have no known components or substructure. The electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton. Quantum mechanical properties of the electron include an intrinsic angular momentum (spin) of a half-integer value, expressed in units of the reduced Planck constant, ħ. Being fermions, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle. Like all elementary particles, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves: they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light. The wave properties of electrons are easier to observe with experiments than those of other particles like neutrons and protons because electrons have a lower mass and hence a longer de Broglie wavelength for a given energy.

Electrons play an essential role in numerous physical phenomena, such as electricity, magnetism, chemistry and thermal conductivity, and they also participate in gravitational, electromagnetic and weak interactions. Since an electron has charge, it has a surrounding electric field, and if that electron is moving relative to an observer, said observer will observe it to generate a magnetic field. Electromagnetic fields produced from other sources will affect the motion of an electron according to the Lorentz force law. Electrons radiate or absorb energy in the form of photons when they are accelerated. Laboratory instruments are capable of trapping individual electrons as well as electron plasma by the use of electromagnetic fields. Special telescopes can detect electron plasma in outer space. Electrons are involved in many applications such as electronics, welding, cathode ray tubes, electron microscopes, radiation therapy, lasers, gaseous ionization detectors and particle accelerators.

Interactions involving electrons with other subatomic particles are of interest in fields such as chemistry and nuclear physics. The Coulomb force interaction between the positive protons within atomic nuclei and the negative electrons without, allows the composition of the two known as atoms. Ionization or differences in the proportions of negative electrons versus positive nuclei changes the binding energy of an atomic system. The exchange or sharing of the electrons between two or more atoms is the main cause of chemical bonding. In 1838, British natural philosopher Richard Laming first hypothesized the concept of an indivisible quantity of electric charge to explain the chemical properties of atoms. Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney named this charge 'electron' in 1891, and J. J. Thomson and his team of British physicists identified it as a particle in 1897. Electrons can also participate in nuclear reactions, such as nucleosynthesis in stars, where they are known as beta particles. Electrons can be created through beta decay of radioactive isotopes and in high-energy collisions, for instance when cosmic rays enter the atmosphere. The antiparticle of the electron is called the positron; it is identical to the electron except that it carries electrical and other charges of the opposite sign. When an electron collides with a positron, both particles can be annihilated, producing gamma ray photons.


In physics, the electronvolt (symbol eV, also written electron-volt and electron volt) is a unit of energy equal to approximately 1.6×10−19 joules (symbol J) in SI units.

Historically, the electronvolt was devised as a standard unit of measure through its usefulness in electrostatic particle accelerator sciences, because a particle with electric charge q has an energy E = qV after passing through the potential V; if q is quoted in integer units of the elementary charge and the potential in volts, one gets an energy in eV.

Like the elementary charge on which it is based, it is not an independent quantity but is equal to 1 J/C √2hα / μ0c0. It is a common unit of energy within physics, widely used in solid state, atomic, nuclear, and particle physics. It is commonly used with the metric prefixes milli-, kilo-, mega-, giga-, tera-, peta- or exa- (meV, keV, MeV, GeV, TeV, PeV and EeV respectively). In some older documents, and in the name Bevatron, the symbol BeV is used, which stands for billion (109) electronvolts; it is equivalent to the GeV.

Elementary particle

In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a subatomic particle with no sub structure, thus not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental fermions (quarks, leptons, antiquarks, and antileptons), which generally are "matter particles" and "antimatter particles", as well as the fundamental bosons (gauge bosons and the Higgs boson), which generally are "force particles" that mediate interactions among fermions. A particle containing two or more elementary particles is a composite particle.

Everyday matter is composed of atoms, once presumed to be matter's elementary particles—atom meaning "unable to cut" in Greek—although the atom's existence remained controversial until about 1910, as some leading physicists regarded molecules as mathematical illusions, and matter as ultimately composed of energy. Soon, subatomic constituents of the atom were identified. As the 1930s opened, the electron and the proton had been observed, along with the photon, the particle of electromagnetic radiation. At that time, the recent advent of quantum mechanics was radically altering the conception of particles, as a single particle could seemingly span a field as would a wave, a paradox still eluding satisfactory explanation.Via quantum theory, protons and neutrons were found to contain quarks—up quarks and down quarks—now considered elementary particles. And within a molecule, the electron's three degrees of freedom (charge, spin, orbital) can separate via the wavefunction into three quasiparticles (holon, spinon, orbiton). Yet a free electron—which is not orbiting an atomic nucleus and lacks orbital motion—appears unsplittable and remains regarded as an elementary particle.Around 1980, an elementary particle's status as indeed elementary—an ultimate constituent of substance—was mostly discarded for a more practical outlook, embodied in particle physics' Standard Model, what's known as science's most experimentally successful theory. Many elaborations upon and theories beyond the Standard Model, including the popular supersymmetry, double the number of elementary particles by hypothesizing that each known particle associates with a "shadow" partner far more massive, although all such superpartners remain undiscovered. Meanwhile, an elementary boson mediating gravitation—the graviton—remains hypothetical.


In particle physics, a fermion is a particle that follows Fermi–Dirac statistics. These particles obey the Pauli exclusion principle. Fermions include all quarks and leptons, as well as all composite particles made of an odd number of these, such as all baryons and many atoms and nuclei. Fermions differ from bosons, which obey Bose–Einstein statistics.

A fermion can be an elementary particle, such as the electron, or it can be a composite particle, such as the proton. According to the spin-statistics theorem in any reasonable relativistic quantum field theory, particles with integer spin are bosons, while particles with half-integer spin are fermions.

In addition to the spin characteristic, fermions have another specific property: they possess conserved baryon or lepton quantum numbers. Therefore, what is usually referred to as the spin statistics relation is in fact a spin statistics-quantum number relation.As a consequence of the Pauli exclusion principle, only one fermion can occupy a particular quantum state at any given time. If multiple fermions have the same spatial probability distribution, then at least one property of each fermion, such as its spin, must be different. Fermions are usually associated with matter, whereas bosons are generally force carrier particles, although in the current state of particle physics the distinction between the two concepts is unclear. Weakly interacting fermions can also display bosonic behavior under extreme conditions. At low temperature fermions show superfluidity for uncharged particles and superconductivity for charged particles.

Composite fermions, such as protons and neutrons, are the key building blocks of everyday matter.

The name fermion was coined by English theoretical physicist Paul Dirac from the surname of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi.

Higgs boson

The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics, produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. It is named after physicist Peter Higgs, who in 1964, along with five other scientists, proposed the mechanism which suggested the existence of such a particle. Its existence was confirmed in 2012 by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations based on collisions in the LHC at CERN.

On December 10, 2013, two of the physicists, Peter Higgs and François Englert, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their theoretical predictions. Although Higgs's name has come to be associated with this theory (the Higgs mechanism), several researchers between about 1960 and 1972 independently developed different parts of it.

In mainstream media the Higgs boson has often been called the "God particle", from a 1993 book on the topic, although the nickname is strongly disliked by many physicists, including Higgs himself, who regard it as sensationalism.

Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and most powerful particle collider and the largest machine in the world. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) between 1998 and 2008 in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and hundreds of universities and laboratories, as well as more than 100 countries. It lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres (17 mi) in circumference and as deep as 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the France–Switzerland border near Geneva.

First collisions were achieved in 2010 at an energy of 3.5 teraelectronvolts (TeV) per beam, about four times the previous world record. After upgrades it reached 6.5 TeV per beam (13 TeV total collision energy, the present world record). At the end of 2018, it entered a two-year shutdown period for further upgrades.

The collider has four crossing points, around which are positioned seven detectors, each designed for certain kinds of research. The LHC primarily collides proton beams, but it can also use beams of heavy ions: Lead–lead collisions and proton-lead collisions are typically done for one month per year. The aim of the LHC's detectors is to allow physicists to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics, including measuring the properties of the Higgs boson and searching for the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetric theories, as well as other unsolved questions of physics.

Particle accelerator

A particle accelerator is a machine that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to very high speeds and energies, and to contain them in well-defined beams.Large accelerators are used for basic research in particle physics. The most powerful accelerator currently is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, built by the European collaboration CERN. It is a collider accelerator, which can accelerate two beams of protons to an energy of 6.5 TeV and cause them to collide head-on, creating center-of-mass energies of 13 TeV. Other powerful accelerators are KEKB at KEK in Japan, RHIC at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Tevatron at Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois. Accelerators are also used as synchrotron light sources for the study of condensed matter physics. Smaller particle accelerators are used in a wide variety of applications, including particle therapy for oncological purposes, radioisotope production for medical diagnostics, ion implanters for manufacture of semiconductors, and accelerator mass spectrometers for measurements of rare isotopes such as radiocarbon. There are currently more than 30,000 accelerators in operation around the world.There are two basic classes of accelerators: electrostatic and electrodynamic (or electromagnetic) accelerators.

Electrostatic accelerators use static electric fields to accelerate particles. The most common types are the Cockcroft–Walton generator and the Van de Graaff generator. A small-scale example of this class is the cathode ray tube in an ordinary old television set. The achievable kinetic energy for particles in these devices is determined by the accelerating voltage, which is limited by electrical breakdown.

Electrodynamic or electromagnetic accelerators, on the other hand, use changing electromagnetic fields (either magnetic induction or oscillating radio frequency fields) to accelerate particles.

Since in these types the particles can pass through the same accelerating field multiple times, the output energy is not limited by the strength of the accelerating field. This class, which was first developed in the 1920s, is the basis for most modern large-scale accelerators.

Rolf Widerøe, Gustav Ising, Leó Szilárd, Max Steenbeck, and Ernest Lawrence are considered pioneers of this field, conceiving and building the first operational linear particle accelerator, the betatron, and the cyclotron.

Because colliders can give evidence of the structure of the subatomic world, accelerators were commonly referred to as atom smashers in the 20th century. Despite the fact that most accelerators (but not ion facilities) actually propel subatomic particles, the term persists in popular usage when referring to particle accelerators in general.

Particle physics

Particle physics (also known as high energy physics) is a branch of physics that studies the nature of the particles that constitute matter and radiation. Although the word particle can refer to various types of very small objects (e.g. protons, gas particles, or even household dust), particle physics usually investigates the irreducibly smallest detectable particles and the fundamental interactions necessary to explain their behaviour. By our current understanding, these elementary particles are excitations of the quantum fields that also govern their interactions. The currently dominant theory explaining these fundamental particles and fields, along with their dynamics, is called the Standard Model. Thus, modern particle physics generally investigates the Standard Model and its various possible extensions, e.g. to the newest "known" particle, the Higgs boson, or even to the oldest known force field, gravity.


The photon is a type of elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiation such as light, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force (even when static via virtual particles). Invariant mass of the photon is zero; it always moves at the speed of light within a vacuum.

Like all elementary particles, photons are currently best explained by quantum mechanics and exhibit wave–particle duality, exhibiting properties of both waves and particles. For example, a single photon may be refracted by a lens and exhibit wave interference with itself, and it can behave as a particle with definite and finite measurable position or momentum, though not both at the same time as per Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The photon's wave and quantum qualities are two observable aspects of a single phenomenon—they cannot be described by any mechanical model; a representation of this dual property of light that assumes certain points on the wavefront to be the seat of the energy is not possible. The quanta in a light wave are not spatially localized.

The modern concept of the photon was developed gradually by Albert Einstein in the early 20th century to explain experimental observations that did not fit the classical wave model of light. The benefit of the photon model is that it accounts for the frequency dependence of light's energy, and explains the ability of matter and electromagnetic radiation to be in thermal equilibrium. The photon model accounts for anomalous observations, including the properties of black-body radiation, that others (notably Max Planck) had tried to explain using semiclassical models. In that model, light is described by Maxwell's equations, but material objects emit and absorb light in quantized amounts (i.e., they change energy only by certain particular discrete amounts). Although these semiclassical models contributed to the development of quantum mechanics, many further experiments beginning with the phenomenon of Compton scattering of single photons by electrons, validated Einstein's hypothesis that light itself is quantized. In December 1926, American physical chemist Gilbert N. Lewis coined the widely-adopted name "photon" for these particles in a letter to Nature. After Arthur H. Compton won the Nobel Prize in 1927 for his scattering studies, most scientists accepted that light quanta have an independent existence, and the term "photon" was accepted.

In the Standard Model of particle physics, photons and other elementary particles are described as a necessary consequence of physical laws having a certain symmetry at every point in spacetime. The intrinsic properties of particles, such as charge, mass, and spin, are determined by this gauge symmetry. The photon concept has led to momentous advances in experimental and theoretical physics, including lasers, Bose–Einstein condensation, quantum field theory, and the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. It has been applied to photochemistry, high-resolution microscopy, and measurements of molecular distances. Recently, photons have been studied as elements of quantum computers, and for applications in optical imaging and optical communication such as quantum cryptography.

Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics (QM; also known as quantum physics, quantum theory, the wave mechanical model, or matrix mechanics), including quantum field theory, is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.Classical physics, the physics existing before quantum mechanics, describes nature at ordinary (macroscopic) scale. Most theories in classical physics can be derived from quantum mechanics as an approximation valid at large (macroscopic) scale.

Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics in that energy, momentum, angular momentum and other quantities of a bound system are restricted to discrete values (quantization); objects have characteristics of both particles and waves (wave-particle duality); and there are limits to the precision with which quantities can be measured (uncertainty principle).Quantum mechanics gradually arose from theories to explain observations which could not be reconciled with classical physics, such as Max Planck's solution in 1900 to the black-body radiation problem, and from the correspondence between energy and frequency in Albert Einstein's 1905 paper which explained the photoelectric effect. Early quantum theory was profoundly re-conceived in the mid-1920s by Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and others. The modern theory is formulated in various specially developed mathematical formalisms. In one of them, a mathematical function, the wave function, provides information about the probability amplitude of position, momentum, and other physical properties of a particle.

Important applications of quantum theory include quantum chemistry, quantum optics, quantum computing, superconducting magnets, light-emitting diodes, and the laser, the transistor and semiconductors such as the microprocessor, medical and research imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging and electron microscopy. Explanations for many biological and physical phenomena are rooted in the nature of the chemical bond, most notably the macro-molecule DNA.


A quark () is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly observed or found in isolation; they can be found only within hadrons, which include baryons (such as protons and neutrons) and mesons. For this reason, much of what is known about quarks has been drawn from observations of hadrons.

Quarks have various intrinsic properties, including electric charge, mass, color charge, and spin. They are the only elementary particles in the Standard Model of particle physics to experience all four fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces (electromagnetism, gravitation, strong interaction, and weak interaction), as well as the only known particles whose electric charges are not integer multiples of the elementary charge.

There are six types, known as flavors, of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. Up and down quarks have the lowest masses of all quarks. The heavier quarks rapidly change into up and down quarks through a process of particle decay: the transformation from a higher mass state to a lower mass state. Because of this, up and down quarks are generally stable and the most common in the universe, whereas strange, charm, bottom, and top quarks can only be produced in high energy collisions (such as those involving cosmic rays and in particle accelerators). For every quark flavor there is a corresponding type of antiparticle, known as an antiquark, that differs from the quark only in that some of its properties (such as the electric charge) have equal magnitude but opposite sign.

The quark model was independently proposed by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in 1964. Quarks were introduced as parts of an ordering scheme for hadrons, and there was little evidence for their physical existence until deep inelastic scattering experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in 1968. Accelerator experiments have provided evidence for all six flavors. The top quark, first observed at Fermilab in 1995, was the last to be discovered.

Standard Model

The Standard Model of particle physics is the theory describing three of the four known fundamental forces (the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, and not including the gravitational force) in the universe, as well as classifying all known elementary particles. It was developed in stages throughout the latter half of the 20th century, through the work of many scientists around the world, with the current formulation being finalized in the mid-1970s upon experimental confirmation of the existence of quarks. Since then, confirmation of the top quark (1995), the tau neutrino (2000), and the Higgs boson (2012) have added further credence to the Standard Model. In addition, the Standard Model has predicted various properties of weak neutral currents and the W and Z bosons with great accuracy.

Although the Standard Model is believed to be theoretically self-consistent and has demonstrated huge successes in providing experimental predictions, it leaves some phenomena unexplained and falls short of being a complete theory of fundamental interactions. It does not fully explain baryon asymmetry, incorporate the full theory of gravitation as described by general relativity, or account for the accelerating expansion of the Universe as possibly described by dark energy. The model does not contain any viable dark matter particle that possesses all of the required properties deduced from observational cosmology. It also does not incorporate neutrino oscillations and their non-zero masses.

The development of the Standard Model was driven by theoretical and experimental particle physicists alike. For theorists, the Standard Model is a paradigm of a quantum field theory, which exhibits a wide range of physics including spontaneous symmetry breaking, anomalies and non-perturbative behavior. It is used as a basis for building more exotic models that incorporate hypothetical particles, extra dimensions, and elaborate symmetries (such as supersymmetry) in an attempt to explain experimental results at variance with the Standard Model, such as the existence of dark matter and neutrino oscillations.

Subatomic particle

In the physical sciences, subatomic particles are particles much smaller than atoms. The two types of subatomic particles are: elementary particles, which according to current theories are not made of other particles; and composite particles. Particle physics and nuclear physics study these particles and how they interact.

The idea of a particle underwent serious rethinking when experiments showed that light could behave like a stream of particles (called photons) as well as exhibiting wave-like properties. This led to the new concept of wave–particle duality to reflect that quantum-scale "particles" behave like both particles and waves (they are sometimes described as wavicles to reflect this). Another new concept, the uncertainty principle, states that some of their properties taken together, such as their simultaneous position and momentum, cannot be measured exactly. In more recent times, wave–particle duality has been shown to apply not only to photons but to increasingly massive particles as well.Interactions of particles in the framework of quantum field theory are understood as creation and annihilation of quanta of corresponding fundamental interactions. This blends particle physics with field theory.


A tachyon () or tachyonic particle is a hypothetical particle that always travels faster than light. Most physicists believe that faster-than-light particles cannot exist because they are not consistent with the known laws of physics. If such particles did exist, they could be used to build a tachyonic antitelephone and send signals faster than light, which (according to special relativity) would lead to violations of causality. No experimental evidence for the existence of such particles has been found.

The possibility of particles moving faster-than-light was first proposed by Robert Ehrilch and Arnold Sommerfeld, independently of each other. In the 1967 paper that coined the term, Gerald Feinberg proposed that tachyonic particles could be quanta of a quantum field with imaginary mass. However, it was soon realized that excitations of such imaginary mass fields do not under any circumstances propagate faster than light, and instead the imaginary mass gives rise to an instability known as tachyon condensation. Nevertheless, in modern physics the term "tachyon" often refers to imaginary mass fields rather than to faster-than-light particles. Such fields have come to play a significant role in modern physics.

The term comes from the Greek: ταχύ, tachy, meaning "rapid". The complementary particle types are called luxons (which always move at the speed of light) and bradyons (which always move slower than light); both of these particle types are known to exist.

Wave–particle duality

Wave–particle duality is the concept in quantum mechanics that every particle or quantum entity may be partly described in terms not only of particles, but also of waves. It expresses the inability of the classical concepts "particle" or "wave" to fully describe the behaviour of quantum-scale objects. As Albert Einstein wrote:

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.

Through the work of Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, Arthur Compton, Niels Bohr, and many others, current scientific theory holds that all particles exhibit a wave nature and vice versa. This phenomenon has been verified not only for elementary particles, but also for compound particles like atoms and even molecules. For macroscopic particles, because of their extremely short wavelengths, wave properties usually cannot be detected.Although the use of the wave-particle duality has worked well in physics, the meaning or interpretation has not been satisfactorily resolved; see Interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Bohr regarded the "duality paradox" as a fundamental or metaphysical fact of nature. A given kind of quantum object will exhibit sometimes wave, sometimes particle, character, in respectively different physical settings. He saw such duality as one aspect of the concept of complementarity. Bohr regarded renunciation of the cause-effect relation, or complementarity, of the space-time picture, as essential to the quantum mechanical account.Werner Heisenberg considered the question further. He saw the duality as present for all quantic entities, but not quite in the usual quantum mechanical account considered by Bohr. He saw it in what is called second quantization, which generates an entirely new concept of fields that exist in ordinary space-time, causality still being visualizable. Classical field values (e.g. the electric and magnetic field strengths of Maxwell) are replaced by an entirely new kind of field value, as considered in quantum field theory. Turning the reasoning around, ordinary quantum mechanics can be deduced as a specialized consequence of quantum field theory.

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