More Soup (part 3) – The Bosons

Ok so here we are again.
We’ve done the leptons…….
We’ve looked at the hadrons ……..
So what’s next ….?

Meet the Bosons !

So the first question that springs straight away to most peoples lips is the same as it was for the other ‘Soup’ posts concerning leptons and hadrons, namely ….. “what the hell is a boson?”

Great questions says I and unfortunately slightly more difficult to answer clearly to those without at least a modicum of science in their background.
The simplest answer I could come up with is that bosons are fundamental particles that are concerned with ‘force’ unlike the leptons and hadrons (which are collectively called the fermions) which are particles of ‘matter’.

Anticipating the blank stares of some readers ……. How can you have a particle that is concerned with a force ?????
A better way of thinking about it would be to imagine it as a particle that ‘carries’ or ‘mediates’ a force rather than actually is the force itself.

Let kick straight off with some names and descriptions.
The bosons are categorised into six types. There are four ‘gauge’ bosons – the photon (y), the gluon (g), the W boson (W±) and the Z boson (Z0) – all of which have been proved and observed experimentally.
In addition to these primary four, there are two other, much stranger, bosons. These are the Higgs boson (H0) and the graviton (G).

Proton-proton collision at the LHC – the search for the Higgs particle.

Each of these bosons is the force carrier for one of the fundamental forces in the universe.
The photon is the carrier of the electromagnetic force, the W and Z bosons mediate the weak nuclear force and the gluon mediates the strong nuclear force.
The graviton, as it’s name suggests, is theorised to be responsible for the force of gravity but what about the Higgs?
The Higgs boson is postulated to be the fundamental force carrying particle that is responsible for giving mass to all matter. Thats the easy way to put it.
The slightly (and by that I mean a lot!) more complex way of referring to this phenomenon is to say that under the standard model of particle physics, something called the “Higgs Field” gives mass to some fundamental particles via spontaneous symmetry breaking using the Higgs mechanism. Thats pretty mind blowing stuff so I’ll leave that thread right there for the time being. The next post might be my attempt at explaining it a little more clearly – you never know 😉

These forces ……..? What exactly are they? and what do they do?
Good questions.
We might as well start with the ‘biggie’ and the one most people will be familiar with.

Electromagnetism was originally thought to be two separate forces, electricity and magnetism, but is now unified into the single force. It is the force responsible for just about everything in the world around us. It gives shape to all matter through the intermolecular forces between individual molecules. It binds electrons to the atomic nucleus in various ‘shells or orbits’ (not the best description, chemists will know why, but good enough for here) to form atoms which are in turn used to build molecules. This electron binding (and subsequent interacting and releasing) is the basis for all chemistry. Electromagnetism manifests as both electric fields and magnetic fields. Both of these phenomena are simply different aspects of electromagnetism. A changing electric field generates a magnetic field and conversely a changing magnetic field generates an electric field.

What’s up next …..?

Strong nuclear force.
The strong nuclear force, sometimes called the strong interaction, is the force responsible for keeping the nucleus of an atom ‘stable’ for want of a better start point. It is present in two forms. The force that keeps the protons and neutrons bound together in an atomic nucleus and also the force that binds the quarks together to form these two nucleons and other hadrons. The strong nuclear force is about 100x stronger, at an atomic level, than electromagnetism.

Lastly ……

Weak nuclear force.
Weak nuclear force is very short ranged and its bosons (W & Z) primarily do not transmit or mediate a force. Their primary function is to transmutate particles. By exchanging a particle of weak nuclear force (the aforementioned W and Z bosons) electrons go to neutrinos, quarks mix types and a neutron changes into a proton emitting an electron in the process. This last interaction is called Beta Decay, a type of radiation, and is the most commonly used example of the weak nuclear force.
At extremely high energy levels, the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism begin to act the same, and this is called electroweak unification.

Confused ……? Yep, me too. Here are some real world examples that might help.

We have particles that make up matter (stuff like your laptop, the air you’re breathing, the chair you’re sitting on and you yourself) – the protons, neutrons and electrons.

We also have the particles that “cause” (in the loosest sense) forces to work – eg the “photons” of light coming from your screen, the “gluons” present in the nucleus of all matter that prevents its building blocks from flying apart at crazy speeds and the “W and Z bosons” without whose transforming power we would have no radioactivity.

Bang! – thats your bosons done!


The walk, the glow and the quantum soup.

I suppose it all started some time ago down a dark country lane close to where I live whilst I was out walking the dog. The phone had just gone off with a text message from the wife and after reading it I became aware of the glow that the mobile phone screen was emitting.
Now having a science background, I knew a little about sub atomic “stuff” and had recently read (well nearly read) Stephen Hawking’s – Illustrated Brief History of Time, so I was familiar with the photon and particle interactions. I can only surmise at this point, that I must have started to wonder about all the interactions taking place right there under my nose !
As I waved the glowing phone screen round in figure of eights, I imagined all the emitted photons, the particle / antiparticle creation and annihilations and the creation of, what must have been, at least a few exotic particles.

It was wondorous!

Not only was it, in some small way, enlightening but it also served as a focus for what has become an interest, a change of job direction and a source of much personal scientific curiosity.
The term “quantum soup” came to me on that night to describe the trail of “stuff” that must have been left by the passage of the phone screen. This “soup” must surely have been incredibly short-lived but I owe it a lot and it still fires my imagination to this day.

So……….. where now?
Well ……… the door to the subatomic and quantum universe is cracked open – so lets take a peek 🙂

%d bloggers like this: