quarks, leptons and antimatter

At the end of Our Dynamic Universe, we considered big things like stars, galaxies and the Universe itself.  Now the Particles and Waves unit brings us to particles so small we need groups of them just to make a single atom.  Is there a connection?

Why do we study particles? from mr mackenzie on Vimeo.

The Standard Model

An elementary (or fundamental) particle is a particle that is not built from other, smaller particles.  Until the start of the 20th century, scientists had believed that atoms were elementary particles.  However, the discovery of the electron (J.J. Thompson), proton (Rutherford), and neutron (Chadwick), together with Rutherford’s evidence for a heavy, positively charged nucleus at the centre of the atom suggested the atom was not an elementary particle after all.

Brian Cox explains in this video clip…

To go further, we have to introduce some particle physics vocabulary.

These new elementary particles are part of our Standard Model of how the building blocks of the universe interact with one another.  The particles that form “matter” are called fermions, after Enrico Fermi  (Fermi has an incredibly long list of things named after him).  The fermions are divided into two groups; quarks and leptons, as shown in the diagram below.

standard model

The Standard Model of Particle Physics. image: The University of Tokyo

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pp chain reaction in stars

Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Giant thermonuclear reaction;
Held by gravitational attraction.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
You look so small ’cause you’re so far.

As you burn through constant fusion,
Your twinkle’s just an optical illusion.
That happens when your light gets near;
distorted by our atmosphere.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
spreading light and heat so far.

As you use up fuel you’ll grow,
and give off a scarlet glow;
Maybe you’ll go supernova,
exploding elements all over.
Now I know just what you are;
and I know I’m made of stars.

Where does the Sun get its energy? A straightforward question but physicists struggled to find an answer until the 1920s, when Eddington suggested that nuclear fusion might be responsible.

A star is drawing on some vast reservoir of energy by means unknown to us. This reservoir can scarcely be other than the subatomic energy which, it is known exists abundantly in all matter; we sometimes dream that man will one day learn how to release it and use it for his service. The store is well nigh inexhaustible, if only it could be tapped. There is sufficient in the Sun to maintain its output of heat for 15 billion years. — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington

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AH: the Hertzsprung Russell diagram

Our Sun is a typical yellow star, so its emission would be represented by the middle star in this image.

image courtesy of kstars, kde.org – colour is exaggerated

The colour of a star also tells us something about the expected behaviour of a star, it’s lifetime, and destiny. This is achieved by plotting stars on a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. More about HR diagrams here.

This video clip looks at how the stars are arranged on the HR diagram.

Hertzsprung Russell diagram from mr mackenzie on Vimeo.

While some HR diagrams use temperature along the x-axis, others use star classification.

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Hubble discovers our universe is expanding


In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble had access to the Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson, Los Angeles.  This was the largest telescope in the world at that time.  His first breakthrough was the discovery of a cepheid variable star in the Andromeda nebula.  This enabled him to calculate the distance to Andromeda and he quickly realised this was not a nebula but a galaxy outside the Milky Way.
This video follows his work.

Hubble – nebulae or galaxies? from mr mackenzie on Vimeo.

Hubble then turned his attention to other galaxies, looking for cepheid variable stars that would allow him to determine their distances from the Milky Way.  He used redshift to calculate their recession velocity and plotted a graph against distance.


He found that the recession velocity (v) was directly proportional to distance (d).  We can express this relationship as


where H_o is the Hubble constant.  Astronomers agree that the current value of the constant is

H_o~=~72 kms^-1Mpc^-1.

Since this is a  SQA course, we need to convert into SI units – giving

H_o~=~2.3 * 10^-18~s^-1

In this video, Professor Jim Al-Khalili looks at Hubble’s work on the expanding universe.

Hubble’s discovery of the expanding universe from mr mackenzie on Vimeo.

Although he was American, Edwin Hubble transformed himself into a tea drinking, pipe smoking, tweed wearing Englishman during his time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.  He probably wouldn’t approve of this last video.

Unfortunately, astronomers were not eligible for the Nobel Prize for Physics.  The rules have now been changed.



more redshift


and Yoker Uni’s video about Doppler and stuff


While redshift can be used to tell us about the recession velocity of (non relativistic) galaxies, we also need to find a way to measure the distance to these galaxies.  Astronomers have two main methods to measure these distances; parallax (more parallax here) and cepheid variable stars – there’s a Khan Academy video on cepheid variable stars.

using redshift to map the expanding universe from mr mackenzie on Vimeo.