Subatomic particles PDF Print E-mail
Written by Eric   
Sunday, 08 March 2009 11:50

If there's one thing that people say about me, it's, "That Eric, he sure ain't no particle physicist!" And you know, they're right, I ain't no particle physicist. I prefer the more practical branches of physics. Partly because particle colliders are too expensive, and partly because I just don't care that much. But when it comes to the twins, there was no avoiding the comparison of the babies to subatomic particles. Particularly the transition of their behavior from a more boson-like state to a fermion-like state. Now I realize that I don't need to explain to my readers the difference between a boson and a fermion, but for the sake of a longer blog post I'll quickly describe the difference.

A Boson is what is known as a spin 1 particle. What is spinning exactly? Well it requires a lot of math and I'm too lazy to explain it, so let's not worry about it. What this spin state amounts to is that bosons don't interact with each other. The most common boson that you'll encounter walking down the street is a photon, which is basically just a tiny chunk of light. How can we show that photons are boson? It's simple really. Just get two flashlights and point them at each other. If the two beams of light pass right through each other and go on about their merry way, then your flashlight it full of boson flavored photons. If on the other hand you turn on the two flashlights and the beams hit each other, fall to the floor and make a big luminous puddle that stains the carpet, then you have fermion flavored photons. As far as I know the latter doesn't exist, but if you happen to do this experiment and do end up with the fermion type of photon please do two things. First, put some in a jar and send it to me. It would be a lot of fun. Second, go to the hardware store and get your money back because they sold you a defective flashlight. 

Fermions are particles that have a 1/2 spin number. The practical consequence of this is that these particles will interact with each other. A good example of a fermion is an electron. Electrons have a negative charge (actually the negative part is somewhat arbitrary and really only amounts to more complicated math and lots of half points lost on physics exams.) As you will remember from your childhood days of playing with plasmas and ion beams, charged particles do interact with each other. (They interact with magnetic fields as well, but I'm ignoring that fact for the sake of my metaphor.) Obviously the ability of these particles to interact with each other makes for some very useful applications like Van de Graf generators that can make your hair stick up and totally arbitrary gadgets like electricity. 

"This is all very interesting," you say, "but I don't care about physics. I'm only here to read about babies!"  Actually, you have been reading about babies. My babies are fermions. No, they don't repel each other. (And I've yet to see a magnetic field cause them to spin. And come to think of it, they don't give off photons as they accelerate...but that could just be that the acceleration is insufficient to give off visible light... hmm... this might be justification for that sports car.) But they do interact with each other, and not in the fun "babies laughing at each other" way. Nope, when one wakes up and starts crying, the other one does too. Yay! Two babies crying at 3am! Woo-hoo...

... I miss the days when they were bosons. Like I've said in the past, babies are funny... and a little bit quarky. 

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