|
5
Baffling Subatomic Particles
Image Gallery: Batman
Image Gallery: Batman

The Riddler, the Joker, Catwoman and the Penguin ham it up in the 1966 film "Batman." See more Batman pictures.

Silver Screen Collection/Contributor/Getty Images

Batman and particle physicists have a lot in common.

Sure, they may differ on matters of grappling hooks and black, vinyl codpieces, but the caped crusader and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) both reach for the latest in high-tech gadgetry and contend with an exceptionally bizarre rogues gallery.

While Batman brawls with anarchist clowns and mutated ecoterrorists, CERN scientists seek to identify and apprehend such notable adversaries as the Higgs boson.

You remember the Higgs. This theoretical (as of this writing) particle is central to the standard model of physics. The standard model proposes that electricity, magnetism, light and some types of radioactivity are all manifestations of something called the electroweak force. And the electroweak force unites the electromagnetic and weak forces, two of the four fundamental forces of nature, along with the strong force and gravity. Still with me? Good.

However, the model only works if the particles around us had zero mass in the period immediately following the big bang. Theoretically, the Higgs particle emits the Higgs field, a cosmos-wide energy field that bestows everything with mass -- so if the standard model is valid, then the Higgs must exist. We just have to catch it first.

In other words, someone robbed the bank and, oh look, it must be the Joker because -- ever the literalist -- he left behind a calling card with his face on it. Meanwhile, the so-called "god particle" lives a brief existence in the wake of an accelerated particle collision -- and then leaves behind a subatomic decay signature.

The Joker might be Batman's most famous enemy, but he's hardly the strangest. The same can be said of the Higgs boson, so let's get to know the other subatomic super villains.

|