Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 105: May-Jun 1996

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Is matter infinitely divisible?

Just over a year ago, particle physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) announced that they had at last found the top quark, the final particle needed to flesh out the so-called Standard Model of subatomic physics. Then, all seemed serene in the world of quarks and gluons. Quarks, you see, are held to be the smallest building blocks of matter and now they had all been found and cataloged. The collection was complete.

But a storm cloud has now appeared on the event horizon, casting a shadow on the solidity of the quarks themselves. Are they really fundamental; that is, indivisible? Fermilab scientists now wonder, for when they crash protons into antiprotons head-on at very high energies, the resulting debris clouds display an anomaly. Some of the supposedly indestructable quarks seem to have fragmented, too. The collision energies seem high enough penetrate the integument of the quarks if they are divisible. There may be other explanations of the deviation from theory, but right now quarks seem a bit more fragile than they did just a few months ago.

(Wilczek, Frank; "A Crack in the Standard Model?" Nature, 380:19, 1996. Also: Walker, Gabrielle; "The Secret Heart of a Quark," New Scientist, p. 17, February 17, 1996)

Comment. If quarks can be split, perhaps their fragments can, too. Do any fundamental particles really exist? Who knows? We started a couple millennia ago with earth, air, fire, and water. We then found atoms, then protons, then quarks. There may be no floor to the universe; it's quicksand all the way down. There may be no roof either, because astronomers are finding ever larger clumps, skeins, and assemblages of galaxies. Matter could be infinitely ag gregative as well as infinitely divisible.

From Science Frontiers #105, MAY-JUN 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987