It's been a big week for scientific achievement with regard to some of the (relatively) smaller elements of our universe.
While NASA's historic flyby of dwarf planet Pluto has us looking to stars, a discovery made this week by the scientists working with CERN's (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) Large Hadron Collider -- the biggest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world -- expands what we know about the building blocks of the world around us.
For those of us who may have blocked out high school chemistry or physics, quarks are the particles of matter that pair up to construct protons and neutrons in atoms. The newly discovered particles are called pentaquarks and they have been purely theoretical for a little over 50 years. Pentaquarks consist of five quarks – four normal quarks and one antiquark.
American physicist Murray Gell-Mann coined the term in 1964, and was awarded the Noble Prize in 1969 for his work. In a release from CERN, spokesperson Guy Wilkinson explained why the discovery is so special.
“It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted,” said Wilkinson.
The plan now is to study how the four quarks and one antiquark work together to make up these pentaquarks. And with that, our world gets bigger because of something so incredibly small.