The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located in CERN recently detected five new subatomic particles. The particles are all different versions of the Omega-c baryon, detected in 1994. This means they are also heavier cousins to the well-known neutron and proton – the particles that make up atoms. This discovery is important as it sheds light on the inner workings of atomic nuclei, and will help physicists improve their understanding of the ‘strong force’ that holds those particles together.
The new particles are not fundamental. They consist of smaller particles called quarks, in this case Strange and Charm quarks, which are bound together by the mentioned ‘strong force’. Examining the properties of these newly found particles can therefore give deeper insight into the force itself. This is done by smashing other known particles in the LHC and comparing the data of the collisions with the theoretical predictions. The theory that deals with all things subatomic is called Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD). It was developed in the 20th century, and it is still the most precise theory in the history of physics. Its calculations, however, are very complex and require some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world to process them.
With the addition of these five new baryons, the list of all known or theorised particles got a bit more complete. This classification is called The Standard Model, and it is physicist’s version of The Periodic Table, containing more fundamental particles. It is sometimes regarded as “the theory of almost everything”, as it explains almost all physical phenomena apart from gravity, and this discovery just added to its predictive power.
These kinds of discoveries, although not extremely exciting or paradigm-shifting, are crucial for the development of modern physics. They tell us if our theories are correct or need to be altered, or even completely changed. Quantum physics is one of the most successful scientific theories in general, and it is always comforting when more supporting evidence is found, as is the case with these five particles. The theory is also important in building a modern worldview and, of course, for most of today’s technology like smartphone chips and GPS systems. In the words of the famous physicist Richard Feynman, it truly is ‘the jewel of physics’.