an aside : how quarks got their names (fwd)

Subject: an aside : how quarks got their names (fwd)
From: Suzanne Townsend <ac158 -at- CCN -dot- CS -dot- DAL -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 1995 08:39:10 -0400

Got this from another list. Thought many of you would like it.

Suzanne Townsend <ac158 -at- ccn -dot- cs -dot- dal -dot- ca>

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Peter -dot- Bancel -at- cnrs-imn -dot- fr
Subject: an aside : how quarks got their names

On Dec 13 Ann Cantelow wrote :

> "Truth decays into beauty, while beauty soon becomes merely charm. Charm
> ends up as strangeness, and even that doesn't last, but up and down are
> forever." - The Laws of Physics

>Hi Francie. I believe I may have put it at the end of my introduction
>here last month. I stole it from the sig of a physicist named James
>Walden on another list I used to frequent. Truth, beauty, charm,
>strange, up and down are names of quarks. Someone asked James if that's
>the way the quarks really acted, and I think he said yes, but I can't
>remember very clearly.

Truth, beauty, charm, strange, up and down are indeed the names of quarks - or
at least these *were* names of those funny particles that have had physicists
chasing their tails for the last 30 years or so. But the last of the quarks are
called bottom and top nowadays by physicists, the fancier names of beauty and
truth having been rejected by quiet consent a decade or so ago as being a bit
too cute and pretentious. A gesture of humbleness by a group not renowned for

One history of the naming of quarks (at the risk of boring those who don't give
a hoot about physics stuff) is actually a bit more prosaic than the names might
imply :

There are 3 pairs of quarks, according to the standard model currently in use
(refered to by the inspiring name of "standard model"). The first two quarks
which were predicted and then found shortly afterwards are called "up" and
"down" because in the theory they can be represented by numbers in the upper
and lower portions, respectively, of a little matrix (a matrix is a mathmetical
"thingy" that has rows and columns of numbers, like writing numbers in the
sqaures of a checkerboard). So "the funny particle that is represented by the
number in the upper part of the matrix" came to be known as the "up quark".
Later on a new particle was found that did really strange things. When it was
realized that it was in fact a new quark, people simply called it the "strange

The theorists, who are always looking to tidy up the messy situations
uncovered by experimental physicists, were not pleased with the existence of a
lone strange quark because they knew that quarks should come in pairs. When
another quark related to the strange was identified everyone was thrilled that
there were now two nice neat pairs of quarks. It was all very charming and the
new particle was called the "charmed quark".

By now the theorists could see a
pattern so they wrote down another little matrix, just like the first one and
put in one number in the upper part and one in the lower part, just like
before, to represent the next quark pair. Except this time they called them
"top" and "bottom" ("t" and "b" to quark jocks) because the names "up" and
"down" were already taken. Later on some people started calling "t" and "b"
"truth" and "beauty" but as mentioned above those names were not considered
kewl and "top" and "bottom" stuck. The b was found 18 years ago and the top
just this past summer, so the physicists are very pleased. I think that for
many physicists the names "top" and "bottom" somehow fit - one told me once
that for him they were like the names of some mischevious Shakspearean fairies,
always lurking but hard to catch.


Peter Bancel
Paris France

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