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The chief intellectual activity of any scientist is the development and revision of scientific models. A particle physicist seeks to develop models of particle interactions. This work builds directly on work done on gravity and electromagnetism in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The ultimate goal of physics is a unified “theory of everything” that describes all particle interactions in terms of a single elegant equation and a picture. The equation itself might be complex, but many scientists suspect the idea behind the equation will make us exclaim: “How could we have missed it? It was so obvious!”
In this section, we introduce the Standard Model, which is the best current model of particle interactions. We describe the Standard Model in detail in terms of electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong forces. At the end of this section, we review unification theories in particle physics.
The Standard Model of particle interactions contains two ideas: electroweak theory and quantum chromodynamics (QCD) (the force acting between color charges). Electroweak theory unifies the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) , the modern equivalent of classical electromagnetism, and the theory of weak nuclear interactions. The Standard Model combines the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.
In the Standard Model, particle interactions occur through the exchange of bosons, the “force carriers.” For example, the electrostatic force is communicated between two positively charged particles by sending and receiving massless photons. This can occur at a theoretical infinite range. The result of these interactions is Coulomb repulsion (or attraction). Similarly, quarks bind together through the exchange of massless gluons. Leptons scatter off other leptons (or decay into lighter particles) through the exchange of massive W and Z bosons. A summary of forces as described by the Standard Model is given in [link] . The gravitational force, mediated by the exchange of massless gravitations, is added in this table for completeness but is not part of the Standard Model.
Force | Relative strength | Exchange particle (bosons) | Particles acted upon | Range |
---|---|---|---|---|
Strong | 1 | Gluon | Quarks | ${10}^{\mathrm{-15}}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{m}$ |
Electromagnetic | 1/137 | photon | Charged particles | $\infty $ |
Weak | ${10}^{\mathrm{-10}}$ | ${\text{W}}^{+},{\text{W}}^{\text{\u2212}},$ Z bosons | Quarks, leptons, neutrinos | ${10}^{\mathrm{-18}}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{m}$ |
Gravitational | ${10}^{\mathrm{-38}}$ | graviton | All particles | $\infty $ |
The Standard Model can be expressed in terms of equations and diagrams. The equations are complex and are usually covered in a more advanced course in modern physics. However, the essence of the Standard Model can be captured using Feynman diagram s . A Feynman diagram, invented by American physicist Richard Feynman (1918–1988), is a space-time diagram that describes how particles move and interact. Different symbols are used for different particles. Particle interactions in one dimension are shown as a time-position graph (not a position-time graph). As an example, consider the scattering of an electron and electron-neutrino ( [link] ). The electron moves toward positive values of x (to the right) and collides with an electron neutrino moving to the left. The electron exchanges a Z boson (charge zero). The electron scatters to the left and the neutrino scatters to the right. This exchange is not instantaneous. The Z boson travels from one particle to the other over a short period of time. The interaction of the electron and neutrino is said to occur via the weak nuclear force. This force cannot be explained by classical electromagnetism because the charge of the neutrino is zero. The weak nuclear force is discussed again later in this section.
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