At the rate technology advances every day, new scientific discoveries are forthcoming more often than any point in our worlds history.

When there are new discoveries in the field of, say, particle physics, the background knowledge necessary to even understand new research is massive.

New subatomic particles have been discovered by European scientists, but, in order for their research to make sense, one must understand the particles being studied.

Such research is still important to those sans a Master’s Degree in Physics, so strap in, and welcome to Particle Physics 1010.

In grade school, many learned that atoms are the smallest particle in existence. It is more likely, though, that they learned atoms are the smallest particle that makes up matter and due to time, and the lack of necessity in bringing up atoms in every day conversation, that ninth grade basic science lesson was twisted into something else.

In reality, there are particles smaller than atoms making them up, such as protons and neutrons. In fact, there are even smaller particles that make up those subatomic particles. These are known as quarks.

Quarks are fundamental constituents of matter. That means quarks make up almost everything. They are only found within hadrons, the types of particles quarks make up, and cannot be studied on their own because they instantly decay if separated.

Quarks have different properties making them unique. There’s electric charge, the usual, meaning it experiences a force when exposed to an electromagnetic field.

More complicated is color charge. This charge is why quarks can’t exist on their own. There are red, green and blue quarks and oppositely color charged versions; antired, antigreen and antiblue. It’s similar to the way positive and negative electrically charged particles work, just a different charge. This has nothing to do with color as it is usually understood.

Mass, as usual, means that quarks have a physical form.

And then there is spin, which is also complicated, but is essentially the way a quark moves.

There are six types of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, (or beauty), and top (or truth), in order from lightest to most massive.

Quarks can also come together in types of hadrons known as Baryons and Mesons.

Baryons form when there are three quarks held together by a force known as gluons. Protons are the most commonly known type of baryon, and it is composed of two up quarks and a down quark.

Mesons form when there is one quark and an antiquark held together.

Now, why is this all important to understand?

Recently, scientists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) discovered a new type of Baryon known as Xicc++, using the Large Hadron Collider.

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A proton vs. Xicc++ Photo credit: Maddy Van Orman

The LHC is the world’s biggest particle accelerator and it shoots hadrons at each other and scientists study the resulting microscopic shrapnel. Very cool, very difficult stuff.

Xicc++, unlike protons or neutrons, which are fairly light, is a massive baryon. It’s composed of two charm quarks and an up quark.

This gives the scientific community more information with which to theorize about the universe and brings them one step closer to figuring out how it works.

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