Particle Physics and Cosmology

Fundamental particles:  Each particle has an antiparticle; some particles are their own antiparticles.  Particles can be created and destroyed, some of them (including electrons and positrons) only in pairs or in conjunction with other particles and antiparticles.

Particles serve as mediators for the fundamental interactions.  The photon is the mediator of the electromagnetic interaction.  Yukawa predicted the existence of mesons to mediate the nuclear interaction.  Mediating particles that can exist only because of the uncertainty principle for energy are called virtual particles.

Particle accelerators and detectors:  Cyclotrons, synchrotrons, and linear accelerators are used to accelerate charged particles to high energies to experiment with particle interactions.  Only part of the beam energy is available to cause reactions with targets at rest.  The problem is avoided in colliding-beam experiments.

Particles and interactions:  Four fundamental interactions are found in nature: the strong, electromagnetic, weak, and gravitational interactions.  Particles can be described in terms of their interactions and of quantities that are conserved in all or some of the interactions.

Fermions have half-integer spins; bosons have integer spins.  Leptons, which are fermions, have no strong interactions.  Strongly interacting particles are called hadrons.  They include mesons, which are always bosons, and baryons, which are always fermions.  There are conservation laws for three different lepton numbers and for baryon number.  Additional quantum numbers, including strangeness and charm, are conserved in some interactions.

Quarks:  Hadrons are composed of quarks.  There thought to be six types of quarks.  The interaction between quarks is mediated by gluons.  Quarks and gluons have an additional attribute called color.

Symmetry and the unification of interactions:  Symmetry considerations play a central role in all fundamental-particle theories.  The electromagnetic and weak interactions become unified at high energies into the electroweak interaction.  In grand unified theories the strong interaction is also unified with these interactions, but at much higher energies.

The expanding universe and its composition:  The Hubble law shows that galaxies are receding from each other and that the universe is expanding.  Observations show that the rate of expansion is accelerating due to the presence of dark energy, which makes up 65.8% of energy in the universe.  Only 4.9% of the energy in the universe is in the form of conventional matter; the remaining 26.6% is dark matter, whose nature is poorly understood.

The history of the universe:  In the standard model of the universe, a Big Bang gave rise to the first fundamental particles.  They eventually formed into the lightest atoms as the universe expanded and cooled.  The cosmic background radiation is a relic of the time when these atoms formed.  The heavier elements were manufactured much later by fusion reactions inside stars.


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