by Fabiola Cacciatore
Introduction to the Standard Model
Particle Physics, a branch of science, seeks to understand the fundamental nature of the universe by analysing the particles that constitute matter and the forces that govern their interactions. At the heart of this discipline lies the Standard Model, a theoretical framework that describes elementary particles and fundamental forces.
Structure of Elementary Particles
The Standard Model identifies elementary particles, the fundamental components of matter, in two main categories: quarks and leptons.
Quarks are the building blocks of protons and neutrons, while leptons include electrons and neutrinos. These particles interact with each other through the exchange of intermediary bosons, which mediate the fundamental forces.
The Standard Model recognises 4 fundamental forces governing interactions between particles:
1. Electromagnetic Force: Mediated by photons, this force regulates interactions between charged particles, determining phenomena such as electrostatic attraction and repulsion.
2. Strong Force: Transmitted by gluons, this force binds quarks within protons and neutrons, forming atomic nuclei.
3. Weak Force: Responsible for phenomena like beta decay, this force is mediated by W and Z bosons, allowing for the transformation of quarks and leptons.
4. Gravity: Although not included in the Standard Model, gravity, described by Einstein's theory of relativity, plays a fundamental role in the structure and evolution of the universe.
The Higgs Boson
A crucial element of the Standard Model is the Higgs boson, discovered in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC, CERN).
This particle explains how other particles acquire mass through interaction with a Higgs field permeating space.
Successes and Challenges of the Standard Model
The Standard Model has seen extraordinary success in predicting and explaining numerous experimentally observed phenomena. However, unsolved mysteries, such as the nature of dark matter and the lack of a complete description of gravity within the model, persist.
In the image below, you can see the representation of the Standard Model. The model consists of 16 particles plus the Higgs boson; each of them has a corresponding antiparticle not shown in the figure. These antiparticles share identical characteristics with their main counterparts, except for opposite electric charge. For example, to a positively charged proton, there is an associated negatively charged antiproton.
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