Particle physics

Going to the zoo

    Credit: © PARTICLE ZOO

    The standard model of particle physics includes a veritable 'zoo' of subatomic particles. Visit the Particle Zoo (at http://www.particlezoo.net), and you can order your own cuddly toy version of your favourite particle.

    Created — and sewn individually — by Julie Peasley, the zoo currently comprises 33 toys of particles and antiparticles. Supersymmetric partner particles are to follow soon.

    Peasley cites her inspiration as a public lecture given last year at UCLA by Lawrence Krauss, on “The beginning and end of time”. With advice from physicist Derek van Westrum, she devised her toy zoo, in which each of the particles and antiparticles has a distinct, and appropriate, appearance.

    Credit: © PARTICLE ZOO

    The charm quark, for instance, bears a red rose, and the three-eyed strange quark is, well, strange. The photon is red-eyed from travelling at the speed of light, and the W boson is double-sided to represent its positive and negative aspects (the W+ and W). The so-hard-to-detect neutrinos are masked like Zorro.

    The stuffing inside the felt body of each particle has been chosen to reflect the actual mass hierarchy of real particles. The lightest ones, such as the electron, have polyfill innards, moving up to poly beads for the muon, which is described on the website as a heavy electron that “lives fast and dies young”. Monster particles such as the top quark are stuffed with polished gravel.

    Each particle is available individually, or in a series of collections. There's the six-pack of 'everyday matter' — neutron, proton, electron, electron neutrino, up and down quarks. Or how about the 'theoreticals' four-pack — Higgs, graviton, dark-matter particle, and a rather evil-looking tachyon, none of which have yet been proved to exist.

    The Higgs boson, rendered in grey wool felt and with the broadest of smiles, is billed as “the one everyone wants to meet”. Indeed it is: with the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider now confirmed for 10 September, we could soon be making its acquaintance.

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    Going to the zoo. Nature Phys 4, 675 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys1061

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