Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Smashing Atom Smashers!

Ever wondered where the "magic" of particle acceleration happens? Check out these maps (provided by Googlemaps) of the neighborhoods surrounding Fermilab (located in Batavia, Illinois)

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and CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Structure of the Atom

From an online curriculum guide produced by New York University, this web page provides a good, introductory outline to the structure and makeup of an atom, even going into some detail about electron orbitals. Also included is a link to an interactive Periodic Table of Elements provided by WebElements. It may not be strictly related to subatomic particles, but atoms are very tiny things and the chart is pretty cool!

Structure of the Atom

Physics jokes and anecdotes

Not all of these are related to particle physics or the tiniest of tiny things, but there are some real eye-rolling groaners in this bunch of physics-related jokes and anecdotes from PhysLink, an online portal for physics and astronomy. Read them at your own risk, though; if you're not careful you might learn something!

Physics jokes and anecdotes

Atom Builder

So you think you're a hot-shot particle physicist now? You know your color charges from top to bottom, electric charge up and down, and you'd be charmed to try your hand at a little hadronizing? Well, this strange little game from PBS will give you just the opportunity!

Making use of your subatomic savvy, can you turn a hydrogen atom into carbon? (Game requires Shockwave)

Atom Builder

The Hunt for Higgs

Higgs bosons seem like they're kind of important don't they? When CERN's Large Hadron Collider is fully operational, it will be "smashing" particles into each other at unprecedented speeds and energy levels...hopefully enough to produce a Higgs boson. But if the existence of the Higgs is only theoretical now, how will scientists know if they manage to make one?

This charming game from the Science Museum (London, UK) explains how scientists will be able to determine if they might have created a Higgs boson in the LHC. (Game requires Flash to run)

The Hunt for Higgs

"The God Particle": The Higgs Boson

Although originally provided by the Cassiopeia Project, which is mentioned in another blog post, this video offers an introduction to the Higgs boson.

Why does the Higgs boson get special treatment? Well, the Higgs boson is the "holy grail" of modern particle physics - no one can yet prove it exists, but everyone is looking for it! If it can be found, the Higgs boson may be one of the keys to moving forward with a unified theory of physics. Endeavors to discover the Higgs have prompted more and more impressive scientific advances, culminating with CERN's Large Hadron Collider, which is hoped to be able to generate enough energy for physicists to finally create a Higgs boson in a controlled setting, and observe it for the first time.

So far, however, the "god particle" remains elusively beyond our reach!

"'The God Particle': The Higgs Boson"

Cassiopeia Project

The Cassiopeia Project provides high definition, high quality videos on science topics and makes them freely available to teachers and interested individuals.

Several topics are covered by the Cassiopeia Project, but of particular interest is the 12-video series the Project provides on the Standard Model, and the 7-video series on quantum mechanics.

All videos are available for download in MPEG-4 format in both regular and high definition, and many videos also have available transcripts as well. Videos are also available through iTunes U.


Neutrinos are easy to overlook - in more ways than one! In addition to bring only roughly the size of an electron, the only one of the fundamental forces that consistently affects neutrinos is the extremely short-range "weak" force. That means they are no only invisible to normal observation techniques, but that they can even pass through solid matter without interacting with it. Neutrinos are sometimes called "ghost particles" because of this.

This website—hosted by the University of California Irvine School of Physical Sciences—offers a concise, accessible description of neutrinos and a historical timeline of advances in our understanding of them, as well as a FAQ about the "ghost particles", and related links.

"What's a neutrino?"

The standard model

Subatomic particles don't exist independently (it's true! Most of the hadronize or decay), and the interrelation between quarks, leptons, and force carrier particles is what's generally referred to as the Standard Model.

CERN provides an excellent and accessible explanation of the Standard Model.

The Four Forces of Nature

One can't properly talk about subatomic particles without talking about the fundamental forces as well. And for an astrophysics question, who better to ask than an astrophysicist?

Thanks to the Ask an Astrophysicist feature on NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's "Imagine the Universe!" website, you can do just that! Submission guidelines for questions are provided on the website, and an extensive archive is available for viewing in case you wanted to know the answer to someone else's question as well! Topics range from cosmic rays, dark matter and dark energy, and relativity...and questions about astronomy and space exploration, of course!

"The Four Forces of Nature"

Life, the Universe and the Electron

Atoms have been known—at least in a metaphorical sense—since the Classical period, and quarks and leptons are still the "cool, fresh face" of particle physics. But what about the humble electron? Hypothesized even before then, and discovered in 1897, our knowledge of the electron is a little over a century old, and what a century it's been!

This website was a collaborative effort on part of the Science Museum (London, UK) and the Institute of Physics to celebrate the centennial of the discovery of the electron. Lots of cool information that's sure to give you a charge!

Life, the Universe and the Electron

Atomic Firsts

Who likes to be first? Who doesn't like to be first!

This on-line article provided by the Science Museum (London, UK) gives some background on some of the true pioneers of physics, such as Joseph John Thomson, the man who discovered the electron...back in 1897! Wow!

This article is light on pictures and has no interactive elements, but it's chock full of information about atomic "firsts"!

"Atomic Firsts"

The Man Who Found Quarks

There's no doubt that quarks are cool, but what about the physicists who discovered them? This article from April 2009 issue of popular science magazine Discover is an interview with Murray Gell-Mann, one of the men who first discovered quarks!

"The Man Who Found Quarks and Made Sense of the Universe"

By the way, Dr. Gell-Mann won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969, and is one of the co-founders of the Santa Fe Institute.

Charting the way

For being so small, there sure is a lot of information to remember about subatomic particles!

This chart is a classroom resource provided by the Contemporary Physics Education Project, an international non-profit organization of teachers, educators, and physicists. CPEP grants teachers and students permission to download and print off sections of the full chart, and even provides JPEG and PDF versions for easy access.

Fundamental Particles and Interactions chart

Build Atoms Yourself

This activity is meant to be a supplement to the "Earth Science" textbook published by McDougal Littell (now Holt McDougal), but no textbook is required to use it!

Using this simulator, you can drag'n'drop protons, neutrons, and electrons to create the first 10 elements in the periodic table, as well as most of their isotopes! (Macromedia Shockwave Player required for this website).

Build Atoms Yourself

"I think that I shall never see...

...a poem as lovely as a tree." These famous words were penned by Joyce Kilmer, but Kilmer would see neither poems nor trees if not for the fundamental elementary particles that make up all matter.

Still, Kilmer had the right idea - the natural world is amazing, but sometimes the easiest way to find out about it is through a book! The Internet is a thriving source of interactive, engaging, and entertaining resources, but there's nothing quite like a book in your hands when exploring the realms of the unknown.

Fortunately, both the Library of Congress classification system and the Dewey Decimal System have sections devoted to the study of science, and even subatomic particles!

If your library uses the Library of Congress classification system, look for books about quarks, leptons, and the rest in subclass QC, where topics relating to physics are found. Specific works about quarks, leptons, and the rest are most likely to be found in QC793-793.5 - the section dealing with elementary particle physics.

If your library uses the Dewey Decimal System, books on subatomic particles and their study is most likely to have a call number starting with 539.

Happy reading!

Large Hadron Rap

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest particle accelerator in the world, and also operates at the highest energy levels. Operated by CERN, it first went operational in 2008, and was designed to be the most sophisticated particle accelerator and detector ever made.

YouTube's alpinekat made a rap about it (check out some of Alpinekat's other science raps as well!)

Quirky and informative, this song will not only make you roll your eyes, but teach you a little about the LHC, antimatter, and the proposed Higgs boson!

Alpinekat - "Large Hadron Rap"

A little on leptons

Quarks may steal the show, but leptons are just as important as basic building blocks of matter! Did you know the humble electron is a lepton? Other leptons known to exist are the muon and the tau!

Thanks to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University, this handy resource tells us a thing or two about leptons, the other most important fundamental subatomic particles!

The Particle Adventure

Do you like interactive things? Do you like tours? This interactive on-line tour is a great introduction to the world of particle physics, covering everything from quarks, neutrinos, and antimatter, all the way to particle accelerators and detectors!

The Particle Adventure is sponsored by the Particle Data Group of Lawrence Berkeley National Library.


Kids.Net.Au is a "search engine for kids, children, parents, educators and teachers" and includes its own dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia services. It even has some information guessed it: quarks!

The Kids.Net.Au dictionary defines a quark as a "hypothetical truly fundamental particle in mesons and baryons; there are supposed to be six flavors of quarks (and their antiquarks), which come in pairs; each has an electric charge of +2/3 or -1/3", and also lists hyponyms and translations for "quark" into 25 other languages!

The encyclopedia entry offers a summary of the history of quarks and their discovery.

Kidipede - Science for Kids

Kidipede is a "kids' encyclopedia, online since 1996." Divided into different resources by subject, the Science for Kids section offers an overview of scientific topics geared toward students in the middle grades. Check out the Chemistry area to find out a little more about atoms, or get as tiny as possible and brush up on your quark knowledge!

An interesting site that also offers some book suggestions for further reading, although you'll have to deal with occasional ads while navigating this sit.


Fermilab is one of the main particle accelerators in the United States - the American counterpart to CERN's accelerator! The Fermilab Education Office provides a wealth of resources for students and educators, arranged by suggested grade level. Check out some of their featured resources and programs, learn a little more with Fermilab's interactive timeline...or just play some in-browser games at the "Fermilabyrinth"! (Games require Adobe Shockwave to play)

CERN Microcosm on-line

The scientists and engineers at CERN—the European Organization for Nuclear Research—do some fascinating things with particle accelerators - big, high-energy machines designed to smash tiny particles together to try and discover new, even tinier particles. Why do they do it? All for the love of SCIENCE!!!

CERN also has an exhibit called Microcosm open to the public to help teach about the very tiny particles that the organization works with. Can't afford tickets to Geneva, Switzerland? Never fear! CERN highlights their Microcosm exhibit online, including some fun in-browser games that allow you to run your own particle accelerator, and collect the subatomic particles you need to make a carbon atom! (Games require Flash to play)

More games can be found here, but why not take a look at the rest of the online Microcosm exhibit as well?

Strange Charm: A Song About Quarks

Another song about quarks? You'd almost think they're everywhere!

The incorrigible Vlog Brothers offer their own spin (or anti-spin?) on using music to teach about quarks. Rated PG for mild language, and some brief promotional material follows the song.

Vlog Brothers - "Strange Charm: A Song About Quarks"

Quark Song

The smallest of the small, quarks are the basic building blocks that make up protons, neutrons, and many other particles! Learn a little about quarks with this unique song by Lynda Williams, the Physics Chanteuse. Physics is so much yum-yum fun!

The Physics Chanteuse - "Quark Song"