In physics, a quark (or ) is a type of subatomic particle. Quarks are elementary fermionic particles which strongly interact due to their color charge. Due to the phenomenon of color confinement, quarks are never found on their own: they are always bound together in composite particles named hadrons. The most common hadrons are the proton and the neutron, which are the components of atomic nuclei.
There are six different types of quarks, known as flavors: up (symbol: ), down charm strange top and bottom (). The lightest flavors, the up quark and the down quark, are generally stable and are very common in the universe as they are the constituents of protons and neutrons. The more massive charm, strange, top and bottom quarks are unstable and rapidly decay; these can only be produced as quark-pairs under high energy conditions, such as in particle accelerators and in cosmic rays. For every quark flavor there is a corresponding antiparticle, called an antiquark, that differs from quarks only in that some of their properties have the opposite sign.
The quark model was independently proposed by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in 1964. There was little evidence for the theory until 1968, when electron-proton scattering experiments indicated the existence of substructure within the proton resembling three 'sphere-like' regions within the proton. By 1995, when the top quark was observed at Fermilab, all the six flavors had been observed. Since quarks are not found in isolation, their properties can only be deduced from experiments on hadrons. An exception to this rule is the top quark, which decays so rapidly that it does not produce hadrons at all, and instead is observed through the identification of the particles it has decayed into.
The quark theory was first postulated by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in 1964. At the time of the theory's initial proposal, the "particle zoo" consisted of several leptons and many different hadrons. Gell-Mann and Zweig developed the quark theory to explain the hadrons; they proposed that various combinations of quarks and antiquarks were the components of the hadrons, which were at the time considered to be indivisible.
The Gell-Mann–Zweig model predicted three quarks, which they named up, down and strange (, ). At the time, the pair of physicists ascribed various properties and values to the three new proposed particles, such as electric charge and spin. The initial reaction of the physics community to the proposal was mixed, many having reservations regarding the actual physicality of the quark concept. They believed the quark was merely an abstract concept that could be used temporarily to help explain certain concepts that were not well understood, rather than an actual entity that existed in the way that Gell-Mann and Zweig had envisioned.
In less than a year, extensions to the Gell-Mann–Zweig model were proposed when another duo of physicists, Sheldon Lee Glashow and James Bjorken, predicted the existence of a fourth flavor of quark, which they referred to as charm (). The addition was proposed because it expanded the power and self consistency of the theory: it allowed a better description of the weak interaction (the mechanism that allows quarks to decay); equalized the number of quarks with the number of known leptons; and implied a mass formula that correctly reproduced the masses of the known mesons.
In 1968, deep inelastic scattering experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center showed that the proton had substructure. However, whilst the concept of hadron substructure had been proven, there was still apprehension towards the quark model: the substructures became known at the time as partons, (a term proposed by Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, and supported by some experimental project reports,), but it "was unfashionable to identify them explicitly with quarks". These partons were later identified as up and down quarks. Their discovery also validated the existence of a third strange quark, because it was necessary to the model Gell-Mann and Zweig had proposed.
In a 1970 paper, Glashow, John Iliopoulos, and Luciano Maiani gave more compelling theoretical arguments for the as-yet undiscovered charm quark. The number of proposed quark flavors grew to the current six in 1973, when Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa noted that the experimental observation of CP violation could be explained if there were another pair of quarks. They named the two additional quarks top and bottom ().
It was the observation of the charm quark that finally convinced the physics community of the quark model's correctness. Following a decade without empirical evidence supporting the flavor's existence, it was created and observed almost simultaneously by two teams in November 1974: one at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center under Samuel Ting and one at Brookhaven National Laboratory under Burton Richter. The two parties had assigned the discovered particle two different names, J and ψ. The particle hence became formally known as the J/ψ meson and it was considered a quark–antiquark pair of the charm flavor that Glashow and Bjorken had predicted, or the charmonium.
In 1977, the bottom quark was observed by Leon Lederman and a team at Fermilab. This indicated that a top quark probably existed, because the bottom quark was without a partner. However, it was not until eighteen years later, in 1995, that the top quark was finally observed. The top quark's discovery was quite significant, because it proved to be far more massive than expected, almost as heavy as a gold atom. Reasons for the top quark's extremely large mass remain unclear.
Gell-Mann went into further detail regarding the name of the quark in his book, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, saying that the pronunciation for quark had been derived from quart, which fitted perfectly with the three-quark theory in that one might have "three quarts of drinks at a bar." George Zweig, the co-proposer of the theory, preferred the name ace for the particle he had theorized, but Gell-Mann's terminology came to prominence once the quark model had been commonly accepted.
The six flavors are named up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom; the top and bottom flavors are also known as truth and beauty, respectively. Typically, only the stable up and down flavors are in common natural occurrence; heavier quarks can only be created in high-energy conditions, such as in cosmic rays, and quickly decay into lighter quarks and other particles. Most studies conducted on heavier quarks have been performed in artificially-created conditions such as in particle accelerators.
Flavors are grouped into three generations: the first generation comprises up and down quarks, the second comprises charm and strange, and the third comprises top and bottom. Quarks of higher generations have greater masses and thus are generally less stable than quarks of lower generations. Leptons are similarly divided into three generations.
For every quark flavor, there is a corresponding antiquark (denoted by the letter for the quark with an overbar, for example for an up antiquark). Much like antimatter in general, antiquarks have the same mass and spin of their respective quarks, but the electric charge and other charges have the opposite sign. Various quark flavor combinations result in the formation of composite particles known as hadrons. There are two types of hadrons: baryons (made of three quarks) and mesons (made of a quark and an antiquark). The building blocks of the atomic nucleus—the proton and the neutron—are baryons. There are a great number of known hadrons, and most of them are differentiated by their quark content and the properties that these constituent quarks confer upon them.
See the table of properties below for a more complete analysis of the six quark flavors' properties.
A quark of one flavor can transform, or decay, into a quark of a different flavor by the weak interaction. A quark can decay into a lighter quark by emitting a W boson, or can absorb a W boson to turn into a heavier quark. This mechanism causes the radioactive process known as beta decay, in which a neutron "splits" into a proton, an electron and an antineutrino. This occurs when one of the down quarks in the neutron (composed by ) decays into an up quark by emitting a boson, transforming the neutron into a proton (). The boson then decays into an electron and an electron antineutrino ().
The electric charge of quarks is important in the construction of nuclei. The hadron constituents of the atom, the neutron and proton, have charges of 0 and +1 respectively; the neutron is composed of two down quarks and one up quark, and the proton of two up quarks and one down quark. The total electric charge of a nucleus, that is, the number of protons in it, is known as the atomic number, and it is the main difference between atoms of different chemical elements. Atoms usually have as many electrons as protons; since the electric charge of an electron is −1, the net electric charge of an atom is typically 0. When this is not the case, the atom is ionized.
In the case of quarks, as in the case of all fermions, one uses up arrows ↑ and down arrows ↓ for the spin eigenvalue of either +1/2 or −1/2, respectively. On the other hand, the flavor of a quark is first denoted using the first character of the flavor name, followed by either ↑ or ↓ to signify the values of +1/2 or −1/2, respectively. For example, an up quark with a positive spin of 1/2 along a given axis would be denoted u↑. The quark's spin value contributes to the overall spin of the parent hadron, much as quark's electrical charge does to the overall charge of the hadron. Varying combinations of quark spins result in the total spin value that can be assigned to the hadron. However, one notes, that this view has been recently challenged in Quantum Chromodynamics by theories that include vacuum polarization and the coupling of quark hadrons to strange quarks in the vacuum.
In addition to the electric charge, quarks carry another type of 'charge' called color charge. Despite its name, color charge is not related to either to the color of visible light or identified with the electrical charge which has a very different symmetry. There are three types of color charge a quark can carry, named blue, green and red; each of them is complemented by an anti-color: antiblue, antigreen and antired, respectively. While a quark can have red, green or blue charge, an antiquark can have antired, antigreen, or antiblue charge.
The system of attraction and repulsion between quarks charged with any of the three colors (called strong interaction, and described by quantum chromodynamics) is as follows: a quark charged with one color value will be attracted to an antiquark carrying with the corresponding anticolor, while three quarks all charged with differing colors will similarly be forced together. In any other case, a force of repulsion will come into effect. Quarks undergo such color interactions via the exchange of quantum field carrier particles known as gluons, a concept which is further discussed below.
In the process called 'hadronization' the role played by the three color types becomes evident. The result of two attracting quarks that form a 'stable' quark-antiquark pair will be color neutrality: a quark with n color charge plus an antiquark of −n color charge will result in a color charge of 0, or "white". The combination of all three color charges (called "red", "blue", "green", or 'rgb') will similarly result in the cancelling out of color charge, yielding the same "white" color charge as in the previous case of the interaction between the quark and antiquark of opposite charge colors. These two methods of color neutral hadronization are the same as the two ways in which all hadrons are formed (all 'stable' hadrons must be color neutral); a meson, comprised of two particles, is the result of the binding of a quark and antiquark that have opposite color charges, whereas a baryon, containing three particles, arises from the hadronization of three quarks, all charged with different colors.
In a hadron most of the mass comes from the gluons that bind the constituent quarks together, rather than from the individual quarks; the mass of the quarks is almost negligible compared to the mass derived from the gluons' energy. While gluons are inherently massless, they possess energy, and it is this energy that contributes so greatly to the overall mass of the hadron. This is demonstrated by a common hadron–the proton. Composed of one and two quarks, the proton has an overall mass of approximately 938 MeV/c2, of which the three quarks contribute around 15 MeV/c2, with the remainder of 923 MeV coming from the quantum chromodynamic binding energy (QCBE) provided by the gluon field. This makes direct calculations of quark masses based on quantum chromodynamics quite difficult, and often unreliable, as quantum perturbation methods (that were very successful in QED) fail most of the times. Often, mass values can be derived after calculating the difference in mass between two related hadrons that have opposing or complementary quark components; for example, the proton to the neutron, where the difference between the two is one down quark to one up quark, the relative masses and the mass differences of which can then be measured by the difference in the overall mass of the two hadrons.
The masses of most quarks were within predicted ranges at the time of their discovery, with the notable exception of the top quark, which was found to have a mass approximately equal to that of a gold nucleus, around 200 times heavier than the hadron it was thought to form. Various theories have been offered to explain this very large mass; common predictions assert that the answer to the abnormality will be found when more is known about the top quark's interaction with the Higgs (boson) field, and how the Higgs boson field adds very heavily to the total mass, and might also bring about the very existence of 'mass'.
|Name||Symbol||Generation||Mass (MeV/c2)||Spin||Electric charge||Antiparticle||Antiparticle symbol|
|Up||1||000001.51.5 to 3.3||1/2||+2/3||Antiup|
|Down||1||000003.53.5 to 6.0||1/2||−1/3||Antidown|
|Charm||2||001160.01160 to 1340||1/2||+2/3||Anticharm|
|Strange||2||000070.070 to 130||1/2||−1/3||Antistrange|
|Top||3||169100.0169,100 to 173,300||1/2||+2/3||Antitop|
|Bottom||3||004130.04130 to 4370||1/2||−1/3||Antibottom|
Quarks have an inherent relationship with the gluon, which is technically a massless vector gauge boson. Gluons are responsible for the color field, or the strong interaction, that ensures that quarks remain bound in hadrons and instigates color confinement, and are the subjects of the quantum chromodynamics research area. Gluons, roughly speaking, carry both a color charge and an anti-color charge, for example red–antiblue.
Gluons are constantly exchanged between quarks through a virtual emission and re-absorption process, (somewhat similar to the process of virtual photon exchanges between an electron and a proton, that is, however, much better understood in QED, viz. Richard Feynman). These gluon exchange events between quarks are extremely frequent, occurring approximately 1024 times every second. When a gluon is transferred between one quark and another, a color change comes into effect in the receiving and emitting quark. These constant switches in color within quarks are mediated by the gluons in such a way that a bound hadron will constantly retain a dynamic and ever-changing set of color types that will preserve the force of attraction, therefore forever disallowing quarks to exist in isolation.
The color field, that the gluon is a carrier of, contributes most significantly to a hadron's 'indivisibility' into single quarks, or color confinement. This is demonstrated by the varying strength of the chromodynamic binding 'force' between the constituent quarks of a hadron; as quarks come closer to each other, the chromodynamic binding 'force' actually weakens (this is called asymptotic freedom), but while they drift further apart, the strength of the bind dramatically increases. This is because as the color field is stressed by the drifting away of a quark, much as an elastic band is stressed when pulled apart, a proportionate and necessary multitude of gluons of appropriate color property are created to strengthen the stretched field. In this way, an infinite amount of energy would be required to wrench a quark from its hadronized state.
These strong interactions are highly non-linear, because gluons can emit gluons and exchange gluons with other gluons. This property has led to a postulate regarding the possible existence of a particle that is purely a 'gluon', that is —a glueball—despite previous observations indicating that gluons cannot exist without the 'attached' quarks, and also in violation of the deBroglie quantum mechanism as applied to gluon color fields. The 'glueball' postulate amounts to denying the existence of gluon color fields and of the color confinement mechanism discussed above
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