- In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev created the periodic table of chemical elements by noticing that elements' properties fit into a repeating pattern, which physicists later explained as a consequence of atomic structure. A similar story may be playing out in particle physics again today.
- The 12 known elementary particles have their own repeating patterns, suggesting they are not truly fundamental but actually tiny balls containing smaller particles, which physicists tentatively call preons.
- Other evidence argues against this possibility. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, along with several lesser-known experiments, may finally settle the question.
The universe is a complex and intricate place.
We can move easily through air and yet not through a wall. The sun transmutes one element to another, bathing our planet in warmth and light. Radio waves have carried a man's voice to Earth from the surface of the moon, whereas gamma rays can inflict fatal damage on our DNA. On the face of it, these disparate phenomena have nothing to do with one another, but physicists have uncovered a handful of principles that fuse into a theory of sublime simplicity to explain all this and much more. This theory is called the Standard Model of particle physics, and it encapsulates the electromagnetic forces that make a wall feel solid, the nuclear forces that govern the sun's power plant, and the diverse family of light waves that both make modern communications possible and threaten our well-being.
This article was originally published with the title The Inner Life of Quarks.