Current And Future Research
Subatomic particles are important in all electronic, optical, and nuclear technologies. Cathode-ray tubes, for example, use beams of electrons to create the pictures. A television antenna first picks up the television signal—a series of radio-frequency photons—which is then processed electronically and used to control an electron gun. An electron gun shoots a beam of electrons which is steered by magnets and hits the coated inner surface of the picture tube. When electrons hit this surface, it lights up, creating the picture as the electron beam is steered rapidly across it. A common type of smoke detector that uses subatomic particles is an ionization smoke detector; in an ionization smoke detector, alpha particles ionize (strip electrons from) air molecules. These ionized air molecules cause electric current to flow in the detector. If there is a fire, other particles enter the detector and interfere with the flow of the electric current, and this makes the alarm go off. Proton beams are used to treat cancer; all technologies involving optics or radio manipulate photons; all electronic devices manipulate electrons; nuclear weapons and nuclear power depend on controlling neutrons so as to produce either an explosive or a controlled nuclear chain reaction, respectively; positron-emitting isotopes are used to image metabolic activity in the human brain in real time; and so on.
In recent years, particle physics has been particularly exciting, with several important experimental developments. Besides the discovery of the W and Z bosons and the top quark, scientists working in Japan in 1998 found evidence that at least some of the three types of neutrinos have a small but nonzero mass. Their experiment did not allow them to determine the exact value for the mass, but subsequent work has shown that the mass of the neutrino is too small to account for the "dark matter" which astronomers have shown must account for a significant fraction of the mass of the Universe. Previously, it seemed that the unknown mass of the neutrino might explain the "dark matter" mystery; today, suspicion centers on "dark energy" rather than on "dark matter" as an explanation of the Universe's nonvisible mass.
See also Spin of subatomic particles.
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Lesley L. Smith
K. Lee Lerner
Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Stomium to SwiftsSubatomic Particles - Neutrons, Quark Model, Elementary Mediator Particles, Baryons, Mesons, Current And Future Research - Discovery of particles, Subatomic particle classifications