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Q & A: Can you accelerate electrons or neutrons to learn about them?

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Most recent answer: 01/31/2017
Q:
They smash protons together at the LHC to learn about what they are made of. Could they not do the same with neutrons or electrons to determine if they are not made of more basic materials? Especially electrons. They seem to be a very interesting particle.
- Walter Kessel (age 65)
Crittenden, Ky. USA
A:

You can accelerate electrons, like protons, since they have an electric charge which can gain energy under the influence of a strong electric field. There are many electron accelerators that exist around the world that are in use for both scientific exploration as well as for medical purposes.   Neutrons are charge neutral so you can't use this method.   You have to take what nature gives you, for example the neutrons that are emitted in certain kinds of nuclear decay.

Except for their respective electric charges, protons and neutrons have very similar interactions between their internal constituents, quarks, and other forms of matter.   Electrons are different.  For the most part, they don't appear to have any internal structure.  They interact with other particles mainly  by means of electric charge.  However,  there is an additional type of force, called the "weak force ",  that exists in nature.  This force is involved in nuclear beta decay of nuclei as well as interactions of many elementary particles such as electrons, muons, neutrinos, a variey of mesons, and so forth. 

A nice introduction to this wonderful world of fundamental physics can be found at:

https://home.cern/about/physics/standard-model

LeeH


(published on 01/31/2017)

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