Planck E PressCenter Articles

If it Weren't for the Neutrons

Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Date published: 2023-01-27
Date modified: 2023-01-27
Reading time: 00:01:19

Author: Patrizia Tomasi-Bensik

If it Weren't for the Neutrons

“We are made of stardust.”
Carl Sagan


Every time someone asks me about matter, within quantum mechanics, I see a look of disappointment when I answer that matter is nothing more than the stability of the interrelationship of patterns held together by the Strong Nuclear Force.

There is nothing between the nucleus and the electron and, I admit that this is difficult to understand. Especially when we bump into the corner of that solid wooden trunk we inherited from our great-grandmother.

Carl Sagan's phrase, which I quoted above, is not only pure poetry but also a fact. We all are 65% oxygen, 18.5% carbon, 9.5% hydrogen, 3.3% nitrogen, 1.5% calcium, 0.4% phosphorus, 0.3% sulfur, 0.2% sodium, 0.2% chlorine, and 0.1% magnesium.

All these elements from the periodic table, are made up of a nucleus of protons and neutrons orbited by electrons. Another absolutely amazing fact? It takes exactly 1836 electrons to reach the mass of one proton or neutron in the nucleus of the element to which they belong. Always.

As its name implies, the neutron has no electrical charge. It is the neutron that gives stability to matter and keeps things that way for periods of time far superior to the instantaneous disintegration that would occur if there were only protons (in the nucleus) and electrons (in orbit).

Okay, there are particles that we will call elementary for lack of a language (and logic) that encompasses the quantum world. They are leptonsquarks, and mediator particles.

For the love of God, no. Not the Higgs boson.

And finally, curiosities that you can dress to impress. Murray Gell-Mann named the quark after James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (the bootstrap theory mentions Ulysses by the same author), not the poetry of his friend Arthur Sze.

The phrase that inspired Gell-Mann, thanks to its sonority, was Three Quarks for Muster Mark. Sze's phrase, which gave its name to Gell-Mann's wonderful book, is The world of quarks has everything with a jaguar circling in the night.

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