Research in the field of elementary particle physics (2023)

Duke University’s Professor Emeritus Alfred Goshaw describes his journey as a physicist in the field of elementary particle physics, from graduate student to CERN’s ATLAS experiment, extolling the virtues of science to go beyond politics to an environment of co-operation across nationalities and cultures.

This article contains stories about research in the field of elementary particle physics. It is not for experts in the field, but directed to others who are curious about how the field has evolved from the dawn of the Standard Model in the 1960s to activities today that require the use of mega particle detectors. The perspective is from the journey I began as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin and continued through involvement with the CDF and ATLAS collaborations. One message I want to convey is that these large experiments, and the hosting laboratories Fermilab and CERN, in addition to being essential for the advancement of our understanding of elementary particles, are also wonderful models for co-operation between people independent of their culture or nationality.

There was a three-hour wait in the queue. The occasion was not the premier of another Star Wars movie, but instead an open house at the international laboratory CERN in Geneva Switzerland. It was September 2019, and people were lined up for the opportunity to visit the mammoth ATLAS detector located in the Large Hadron Collider tunnel. I had volunteered as a tour guide and was stunned by the turnout. Even more surprising were the reactions of some of the visitors to seeing a particle detector the size of a three-story building. Their response inspired me to reflect on the evolution of experimental high energy physics from early research conducted by a few individuals to experiments requiring the co-operative effort of thousands of physicists, engineers, and technicians. It is a personal journey covering 60 years of research in this field.

The beginning

My physics adventures began as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the early 1960s. My adviser, William Walker, suggested that I search for an excited state of the K meson, the lowest mass particle containing a strange quark.

This was a big deal in those days, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to discover a new particle! This so-called ‘kappa meson’ had properties (spin-parity = 0+) similar to the Higgs boson that entered later in my career.

In the 1960s, the detectors of choice were bubble chambers. My research utilised an 80-inch hydrogen-filled chamber located at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The data was collected at a glacial rate with bursts of K+ mesons fired every few seconds into the bubble chamber. The mesons collided with target protons, creating new particles whose trajectories were detected by a trail of bubbles in the hydrogen. The bubbles were illuminated by a flash of light, and the images recorded on film. The photographs were later projected onto scanning tables, where the bubble trails were painstakingly digitised by hand and the data recorded on punched cards. In the evenings, my job was to carry boxes of cards to the local IBM 704 computer where I ran programs that turned the digitisation of the bubbles into geometric spirals that allowed calculation of the particle’s momenta. The programs often ran for many hours, producing reams of paper output. One bonus of this time was romantic: I used these evenings as an opportunity to spend time with my future wife (it must have been the world’s most boring date).

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In those days, as part of a research group of four people, I was able to touch everything in the experiment, starting with calibrating the K meson beam and studying of bubble chamber operation, then writing the data analysis programs from scratch, and finally preparing the physics plots (hand drafted with pen and ink, of course). I presented the final results of this search in a ten-minute talk at a physics conference in New York in 1965. Alas, my first research effort did not find a new particle in Nature. For more details, do a Google search for the ‘kappa meson’, where (amazingly) this experiment is still listed.

Fast forward through the next several decades when I spent time as a post doc at Princeton, then a research fellow at CERN, and finally joined Duke University as a professor in 1973. My research continued with the aid of many other bubble chambers, using experiments at laboratories such as Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, and CERN, pursuing various efforts to validate the theory of the Standard Model (SM) through studies of strange and charm particles and exploring other predictions of the SM’s electroweak sector.


In the early 1990s, as a sideline, I joined a group advocating my home state of North Carolina as the site of a proposed Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) that would provide proton-proton collisions at the colossal centre of mass energy of 40 TeV. Despite our efforts, Texas was chosen as the SSC’s site. I nevertheless continued involvement in the SSC project and planned to travel to Waxahachie, Texas in the fall of 1993 as a manager of one of the detector projects. This was abruptly cut short when federal funding for the SSC was terminated on 21 October, 1993, despite the fact that about one-quarter of the tunnel had been excavated. Not a great record for me: no kappa meson, and no SSC in North Carolina or Texas. The SSC project failed in part because of the inability to secure involvement and funding from other countries.


Disappointed, but undeterred, my group at Duke turned to an accelerator facility (the Tevatron) located at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. This provided proton-antiproton collisions at only 5% of the centre of mass energy of the ill-fated SSC, but still at the current energy frontier. The experiments at Fermilab were in hot pursuit of a particle called the ‘top quark’ that was expected from the SM’s pattern of elementary particles. My participation in this experiment began with the humble task of getting the timing electronics checked out and ready for installation in the data acquisition system. In this experiment, the trajectory of particles produced electric charge deposits that were directly recorded as digital signals and used to reconstruct particle trajectories at a blazing speed compared to the bubble chamber era. In April 1995, the CDF and the D0 collaborations together publicly announced the discovery of the top quark, having the staggering mass of a gold atom. This is still the record holder for the most massive elementary particle.

Cultural and intellectual diversity

My research at CDF continued after the discovery of the top quark, and during this time I worked my way up through the ranks as convener of physics groups. To my surprise, I was elected co-spokesperson of the experiment in 1997 and served in that role for six years. I had moved far beyond my four-person research project. The CDF experiment was a collaboration of six hundred scientists and revealed the challenges and tremendous advantages of working with a large group of scientists. The breadth of the group’s backgrounds fostered a diversity of approaches to scientific questions. The interaction with an international community of scientists was a fantastic experience, and I often referred to our experiment as ‘CDF University’, since within our community there was such a wonderful richness of cultural diversity and intellectual pursuits.

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In 2005, I entered the final stage of my career by joining the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is designed to provide proton-proton collisions at a centre of mass energy of 14 TeV. The CDF experiment prepared me well for this transition. Compared to my original research in the 1960s, everything was scaled upwards by a factor of about 1,000. The ATLAS collaboration now consisted of 3,000 physicists, and the energy scale of elementary particles being explored increased from about 1 GeV to 1 TeV. Finally, the rate for recording the products from particle collisions increased from the glacial scale of a few tenths of Hz using bubble chambers to kHz. And of course, like at CDF, the ATLAS detector components provide direct electronic digitisation of the particle trajectories. No more bubbles recorded on film; no army of scanners; and no more punch cards. The data acquired is processed with a world-wide collection of computers. During my tenure with the ATLAS experiment, the last missing piece of the SM was discovered in 2012. This particle, the Higgs boson, has a much more profound role in the SM than my humble kappa meson, but shares similar properties (spin-parity = 0+).

Research at CERN is a long journey from my graduate school days. Sort of like moving from a one room schoolhouse to a major university. The enormous advantage is the opportunity to work with colleagues with a broad range of scientific expertise and creative ideas. One of my favourite places is the cafeteria at CERN, where I can brush shoulders with colleagues from all over the world. As an example, the collaborators in my current research activities at ATLAS include physicists from the United States, China, Israel, and Russia. What might be a politically explosive mix, turns into a lovely example of co-operation across nationalities.

Back to 2019 and the three-hour queue for the ATLAS detector: one of my tour groups included a woman who had been looking forward to an opportunity to see the CERN laboratory for over ten years. As we emerged from the underground cavern containing the ATLAS detector, to my distress, I noted she was she crying – until she explained they were tears of joy. She was overwhelmed by the staggering size of the detector and moved by the diversity of scientific teams required to carry out the research. It was another reminder that beyond the scientific return, the CERN laboratory has a societal impact by providing an example of what humanity can achieve when politics falls away and instead there is co-operation across nationalities and cultures. An especially important lesson in these turbulent times.


To Bill, who sent me on a search for the kappa meson; to Jene, for helping me carry boxes of IBM cards; and to Mikaela, who cried after the tour of ATLAS.

Professor Alfred T Goshaw
Department of Physics
Duke University
+1 (919) 660 2584
Tweet @DukePhysics

Please note, this article will also appear in the third edition of our new quarterly publication.



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Particle physics is the study of the elementary building blocks of matter and radiation and their interaction. The fundamental particles are summarised by the standard model.

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field, in physics, a region in which each point has a physical quantity associated with it. The quantity could be a number, as in the case of a scalar field such as the Higgs field, or it could be a vector, as in the case of fields such as the gravitational field, which are associated with a force.

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Physicists and engineers at CERN use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – fundamental particles.

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There are three fields in which we will be interested for physics 7C: the Gravitational Field. the Electric Field. the Magnetic Field.

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There are 12 known fundamental particles that make up the universe. Each has its own unique quantum field. To these 12 particle fields the Standard Model adds four force fields, representing the four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force.

What are the applications of particle physics? ›

Selected examples illustrate a long and growing list of beneficial practical applications with contributions from particle physics.
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Particle physics is a special field of physical science that focuses on the study of particulate matter and energy. Physicists in this field study particles like photons, electrons and other subatomic particles in natural elements to understand how they work and interact with matter.

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3.2 state the postulates of the particle theory of matter (all matter is made up of particles; all particles are in constant motion; all particles of one substance are identical; temperature affects the speed at which particles move; in a gas, there are spaces between the particles; in liquids and solids, the particles ...

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Perhaps no concept is more central to modern physics than that of the field. The entire subjects of General Relativity and all of Quantum Mechanics are unintelligible without it. Indeed, no phenomenon in nature that we can explain at this time requires a description that cannot be based on fields.

Are elementary particles fields? ›

Carroll's stunner, at least to many non-scientists, is this: Every particle is actually a field. The universe is full of fields, and what we think of as particles are just excitations of those fields, like waves in an ocean. An electron, for example, is just an excitation of an electron field.

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Which university is best for physics research? ›

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Cambridge, United States. ...
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  • University of California, Berkeley (UCB) ...
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech) ...
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Which field is best in physics? ›

These five great physics concentrations are some of the most popular choices for those majoring in physics.
  1. Mathematical Physics. This is a field where the use of mathematic methods are applied to physics in order to solve problems. ...
  2. Astrophysics. ...
  3. Biological Physics. ...
  4. Advanced Physics. ...
  5. Medical Physics.

Which are the five main fields of physics? ›

The five major branches of physics are:
  • The Classical mechanics.
  • Statistical mechanics and Thermodynamics.
  • Electronics and Electromagnetism.
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  • Quantum mechanics.

What are the two main types of fields used in physics? ›

The terms used in this classification are:
  • scalar fields (such as temperature) whose values are given by a single variable at each point of space. ...
  • vector fields (such as the magnitude and direction of the force at each point in a magnetic field) which are specified by attaching a vector to each point of space.

What are the 6 types of particles? ›

For instance, quarks (which make up the protons and neutrons inside atoms) come in six flavors: up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm. Particles called leptons, a category that includes electrons, also come in six flavors, each with a different mass.

What are the 3 types of particles? ›

There are three subatomic particles: protons, neutrons and electrons. Two of the subatomic particles have electrical charges: protons have a positive charge while electrons have a negative charge. Neutrons, on the other hand, don't have a charge.

Who is the father of particle physics? ›

US physicist was one of the chief architects of the standard model of particle physics.

How has particle physics helped the world? ›

The invention of the World Wide Web, the use of particle accelerators to treat cancer and contributions to the development of medical imaging techniques such as PET scans and MRIs are among the better known examples of particle physics innovations.

What is the main research purpose of a particle accelerator? ›

A particle accelerator is a special machine that speeds up charged particles and channels them into a beam. When used in research, the beam hits the target and scientists gather information about atoms, molecules, and the laws of physics.

How is particle theory used in real life? ›

Some examples: Squeezing syringes containing gas (coloured gas if possible) can show increasing intensity of colour and the idea of particles being pushed closer together. Mixing methylated spirits and water can help to show there must be space between particles (50ml + 50 ml = around 97 ml).

Can you get a PhD in particle physics? ›

The Particle Physics group offers prospective PhD students exciting opportunities to study at the very frontier of understanding. Fully funded studentships are available for a wide range of theoretical and experimental projects, plus opportunities to travel to CERN for long and short visits.

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How much does a Particle Physicist make in the United States? The salary range for a Particle Physicist job is from $87,746 to $138,302 per year in the United States.

Is particle physics theoretical or experimental? ›

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Particle theory can help to explain melting, boiling, freezing and condensing. (HT only) Limitations of the simple model include that there are no forces between the spheres, and that atoms, molecules and ions are not solid spheres.

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  • They have spaces between them.
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Electrons are probably the most familiar elementary particles, but the Standard Model of physics, which describes the interactions of particles and almost all forces, recognizes 10 total elementary particles.

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Field studies allow students to gather their own (primary) data, provide opportunities to extend classroom learning through direct observation and experience, and allow for scientific research through field experiments.

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Physics helps us to organize the universe. It deals with fundamentals, and helps us to see the connections between seemly disparate phenomena. Physics gives us powerful tools to help us to express our creativity, to see the world in new ways and then to change it.

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We can use the equation E = k | Q | r 2 E = k | Q | r 2 to find the magnitude of the electric field. The direction of the electric field is determined by the sign of the charge, which is negative in this case.

What are the two basic types of elementary particles? ›

The two most fundamental types of particles are quarks and leptons. The quarks and leptons are divided into 6 flavors corresponding to three generations of matter.

What are the characteristics of elementary particles? ›

There are three basic properties that describe an elementary particle: 'mass', 'charge', and 'spin'.

What are the 3 elementary particles of matter? ›

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What is basic research in physics? ›

Basic research, also called pure research or fundamental research, is a type of scientific research with the aim of improving scientific theories for better understanding and prediction of natural or other phenomena.

What are the seven types of physics research? ›

Terms in this set (7)
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  • Thermodynamics. Heat and temperature.
  • Vibrations and Waves Phenomena. Specific types of repetitive motions- springs, pendulums, sound.
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  • Electromagnetism. ...
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  • Quantum Mechanics.

Who is the best physicist in the world 2022? ›

Clauser and Anton Zeilinger were awarded the coveted prize. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 was awarded to Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger on Tuesday at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

Who is the genius of physics? ›

Albert Einstein

Three great theories define our physical knowledge of the universe: relativity, quantum mechanics and gravitation. The first is the handiwork of German-born Albert Einstein (1879-1955), who remains the physicist with the greatest reputation for originality of thought.

Who is the best professor in world in physics? ›

The top-ranking scientist in physics is Donald P. Schneider from Pennsylvania State University with an h-index of 269.

Is physics research a good career? ›

There are multiple options in industry for people who want to pursue a career in computational physics research. Physicists are a well-sought-after group, mainly due to their strong mathematical training and analytical skills. A little bit of coding knowledge further enhances one's job prospects.

Which field in physics is most in demand? ›

Top paying Physics jobs
  • Physics Professor.
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Which PhD in physics is best? ›

Top Ph.D in Physics Universities in India 2022
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What are the four basic types of elementary particles? ›

Elementary particles
Three generations Up (u), Down (d) Charm (c), Strange (s) Top (t), Bottom (b)Four kinds Photon ( γ ; electromagnetic interaction) W and Z bosons ( W + , W , Z ; weak interaction) Eight types of gluons ( g ; strong interaction) Graviton (hypothetical) ( G ; gravity) []
11 more rows

What are the three types of elementary particles? ›

Current particle physics identifies three basic types of known elementary particles: leptons, quarks and gauge bosons. The known leptons are the electron (e), muon (μ) and tau lepton (τ), and their corresponding neutrinos (ne, nμ, nτ).

What are field interactions? ›

Field Interactions use a custom API to trigger a series of actions when data in a field is entered or changed. These can be used on record fields as well as Understanding Custom Objects fields. Creating field interactions requires a developer with knowledge of Java.

What are the fields in quantum field theory? ›

In it, two fields exist: the electromagnetic field and the “electron field”. These two fields continuously interact with each other, energy and momentum are transferred, and excitations are created or destroyed.

Why are elementary particles important? ›

Elementary particles are the building blocks of the universe. All the other particles and matter in the universe are made up of elementary particles. For many years scientists thought that the atom was the smallest particle possible. Then they learned that the atom was made up of even smaller particles.

What are the two known elementary particles? ›

The two most fundamental types of particles are quarks and leptons. The quarks and leptons are divided into 6 flavors corresponding to three generations of matter. Quarks (and antiquarks) have electric charges in units of 1/3 or 2/3's. Leptons have charges in units of 1 or 0.

Who discovered elementary particles? ›

Thomson had discovered the first subatomic particle, the electron.

Which elementary particle is the smallest? ›

Quarks, the smallest particles in the universe, are far smaller and operate at much higher energy levels than the protons and neutrons in which they are found.

What is the most mysterious elementary particle? ›

Neutrinos may be the most mysterious particles in the universe. These ghostly entities zip around at nearly the speed of light and can fly through matter easily — a light-year's worth of lead would only stop about half of the neutrinos flying through it.

What are 2 examples of field forces? ›

Hence, the two field forces in Physics are Gravitational force and electric force. Note: Magnetic force might also be considered as a field force depending upon the nature of the force.

What are three examples of field? ›

examples of fields
  • The set of all rational numbers Q , all real numbers R and all complex numbers. ...
  • Slightly more exotic, the hyperreal numbers and the surreal numbers are fields containing infinitesimal and infinitely large numbers. ( ...
  • The algebraic numbers form a field; this is the algebraic closure.
22 Mar 2013

What are the four types of interaction? ›

Species interactions within ecological webs include four main types of two-way interactions: mutualism, commensalism, competition, and predation (which includes herbivory and parasitism).

How many types of fields are there? ›

A field can be classified as a scalar field, a vector field, a spinor field or a tensor field according to whether the represented physical quantity is a scalar, a vector, a spinor, or a tensor, respectively.

How do you get into the field of quantum physics? ›

Quantum physicists often first complete a bachelor's degree in physics or a related field such as mathematics or another science. Most career opportunities require at least a master's degree, which may take about two years of additional study.

How successful is quantum field theory? ›

They can interact with one another. They can even, some of them, flow right through us. The theory of quantum fields is arguably the most successful scientific theory of all time. In some cases, it makes predictions that agree with experiments to an astonishing 12 decimal places.


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