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Elementary Particle Tracks

The image here is one of particle tracks made inside a particle accelerator. Each squiggly line is made by an elementary particle.

Elementary particles are the basic building blocks of energy and matter in the universe, they are not made up of smaller subunits. Elementary particles are far too small to observe with even the most powerful microscope, but particle physicists are still able to detect them.

Inside particle accelerators, protons are accelerated in opposite directions close to the speed of light. The accelerator uses powerful electromagnets to urge the protons on. Once the particles are travelling at these high speeds, they also become very massive and this is when they are made to collide inside a detector with a strong magnetic field.

The resulting flash contains the tracks of a multitude of elementary particles. The particles behave in a specific way because they are affected by the magnetic field inside the detector. Physicists can determine which particle they are dealing with by looking at the direction and spin on the particle tracks. From this information, physicists can determine the mass and charge of a particle. It is a bit like finding out information about the mass and velocity of a car by looking at the skid marks on the road.

Image credit: CERN

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