I have started the process of writing my dissertation. In it, I will be including an “Introduction for the Layperson”. I want to test out some of that material here, to see whether I’m actually doing a good job of breaking down the technical stuff. Here is what I have so far. Comments and criticism are welcome.
Everything you see around you is made up of atoms. Atoms, in turn, are comprised of three components: electrons, protons, and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller particles, called quarks. The electron, as far as we know, is not made up of anything else, and neither is the quark. Quarks and electrons, together with a collection of more exotic types of particles, and a description of the interactions between them, make up what particle physicists refer to as The Standard Model. The full extent of the fundamental particles in the Standard Model are shown in Figure 1.
Physicists think that interactions between particles can be described in as few as four different ways.
The most familiar of these interactions (or forces) is gravity. Of these four fundamental forces, gravity is the one force which is not currently described by the Standard Model. The electromagnetic force is the other force likely to be familiar to the layperson. There are two other forces that physicists use to describe the physical world. One of these is the strong force. The strong force is involved in two important interactions. It is the force that binds neutrons and protons together inside the nucleus of an atom. It is also the force that binds quarks together inside of protons, neutrons, and other quark-based particles. The second of these two final forces is the weak force. It is responsible for, among other things, radioactive decay. In fact, over time, most quark-based particles will decay via the weak force.
Next, I’ll go on to explain what is interesting about the weak force and how it relates to my research.