Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Surprise to physicists – protons aren’t always shaped like a basketball

07.04.2003


When Gerald A. Miller first saw the experimental results from the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, he was pretty sure they couldn’t be right. If they were, it meant that some long-held notions about the proton, a primary building block of atoms, were wrong.



But in time, the findings proved to be right, and led physicists to the conclusion that protons aren’t always spherically shaped, like a basketball.

"Some physicists thought they did the experiment wrong," said Miller, a University of Washington physics professor. "Even I thought so initially. And then I remembered that it looked like something else I thought was wrong – our own conclusion in 1995."


In fact, by 1996 he and two colleagues were ready to publish a paper theorizing the angles at which protons would bounce off electrons after collisions in a nuclear accelerator. The measurements would tell a lot about protons’ internal electric and magnetic properties, and virtually everyone expected the two effects to cause the same kinds of collisions. But the 1996 paper described collisions that were quite different.

Miller was sure he and his colleagues had gotten it wrong somehow – until he saw the results of the actual experimental work at Jefferson, a national laboratory in Newport News, Va. Researchers at Jefferson published their initial results in 2000 and updated their findings last year.

What Miller discovered from those results is that a proton at rest can be shaped like a ball – the expected shape and the only one described in physics textbooks. Or it can be shaped like a peanut, like a rugby ball or even something similar to a bagel.

He was able to use his model to predict the behavior of quarks, and he discovered that different effects of the quarks could change the proton’s shape. The model showed that the highest-momentum quarks, those moving nearly at light speed inside the proton, produced the peanut shape.

"The quarks are like prisoners walking around in a jail cell. They just are walking very fast, and when they come to a wall they have to turn around and we can see that, indirectly, and measure it," Miller said.

If the quarks are moving more slowly, the surface indentations of the peanut shape fill in and the proton takes on a form something like a rugby ball, or a beehive. The slowest quarks produce the spherical shape that physicists generally expected to see. Another shape – a flattened round form like a bagel – is sort of a cousin to the peanut shape with the high-momentum quarks. In the peanut shape, the quarks spin in the same direction as the proton, while in the bagel shape they spin in the opposite direction as the proton.

The variety of shapes is nearly limitless and depends on the speed of the quarks inside the proton and what direction they are spinning, said Miller, who presents his findings today (April 5) during a news conference and an invited talk at the American Physical Society meeting in Philadelphia.

The Jefferson results, he said, are a small piece of the puzzle for physicists who are trying to unify the four forces of nature – gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak – into a "theory of everything" by which they can understand the form and function of all matter. Taking this step, Miller said, allows physicists to make better predictions so other experiments can get even closer to a unified theory, and it provides clues for how to devise those experiments.

The first implication of the Jefferson findings, he said, is that "a bunch of textbooks will have to have some of their pages updated."

Beyond that, he said, it isn’t clear right now whether there will be practical implications. However, he tells the story of Michael Faraday, who presented findings in the 1830s on electromagnetic induction but was at a loss to explain the value of his findings. Yet today, the principles he developed are responsible for all the electric generators sending juice from power stations.

"You just never know until you understand something where it might lead," Miller said.


For more information, contact Miller at (206) 543-2995 or miller@phys.washington.edu

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>