sciencesoup: Strangely Charming Particles For a long time, scientists thought that the building block of all things was the atom—the Greek atomos means indivisible—but in fact, atoms are made up of smaller particles: protons, neutrons and electrons. It’s not surprising that these in turn are made up of even smaller particles, which are believed to be among the fundamental constituents of matter. In 1963, physicist Murray Gell-Man dubbed these smaller units “quarks” from the line “three quarks for Muster Mark” in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. This is perhaps fitting, because both the book and the particle don’t go to much effort to make themselves understandable. In the current model, quarks come in six different ‘flavours’ that are usually divided into pairs: up/down, strange/charm, top/bottom. For example, a proton consists of two up quarks and one down quark. Different combinations of quarks often create unstable particles, and it’s likely that very early universe was a dense soup of quarks and antiquarks. The flavours differ in their mass and charge characteristics—and interestingly, quarks even carry a “colour charge”. It’s unrelated to our RGB perceptions of colour, instead referring to the force that holds quarks together, which dictates that they can’t exist on their own. For such tiny particles, quarks are extremely complex, but as Hank Green puts it in his song Strange Charm, “the fact that we’ve identified that they exist at all is so goddamn remarkable that I just sit in awe”.