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 Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>