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Essential Elements

40 41 Quantum mEchanIcS curiouser and curiouser Deep inside the nucleons, the protons and neutrons, lurks an even smaller realm. Here energy and matter have such a close relationship that its sometimes difficult to tell them apart. Each nucleon is made of three quarks, particlelike matter fields that are the building blocks of the everyday universe. The quarks we usually meet are called up and down. Peeking in a proton top left we find two up quarks and one down quark. Up quarks have an electric charge of plus two thirds, whilst downs carry minus onethird. Adding the three quark charges gives the protons total of plus one. The neutron has a slightly different crew of two down quarks and an up, which cancel out, leaving it electrically neutral top right. Binding quarks together is the job of the nuclear strong force. Instead of the two charges of electricity, the strong force has three charges to balance which we can liken to the three primary colours of light. If we mix red, green and blue lights together we get a neutral white. Similarly, each nucleon carries three different colour charged quarks which combine into a neutral overall charge. Weird quantum effects rule this level of matter. Quarks and mirrorimage antiquarks pop instantaneously into being from a bubbling vacuum energy foam. Particles transmute into one another or tunnel through otherwise impenetrable barriers. In these freaky places electricity may pass without resistance and superfluid liquids can lose their viscosity and climb uphill.
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