Friday, June 12, 2020

Quarks and Finnegan’s Wake

In the 1960s, physicists trying to explore the microscopic depths of matter discovered that protons and neutrons are not fundamental particles—each is made out of three elementary particles. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann decided to call the three elementary particles “quarks,” a name that he got from a line in a whimsical poem in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he has not got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

Gell-Mann thought that the line by Joyce was appropriate because the elementary particles came in sets of three to create protons and neutrons. There are six types of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom.

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