New Dorky Poll: Favorite Particle?

Well, the extremely dorky poll on favorite fundamental constants seems to have petered out at 48 comments, two short of the threshold at which it would've become non-dorky. Still, that was a good effort.

Since that worked pretty well, here's another dorky poll question: What's your favorite fundamental particle? And, for the sake of concreteness, let's stick to particles that have actually been shown to exist-- the six quarks (up, down, strange, charm, bottom, top), six leptons (electron, muon, tau, electron neutrino, muon neutrino, tau neutrino), massive force carrying bosons (W and Z), and the associated anti-particles.

Only particles with non-zero mass count (no photons), and only particles that have actually been detected in experiments count, so no hypothetical super-symmetric partner particles.

My answer after the cut.

This isn't a topic I have very strong opinions about-- it just suggested itself as a dorky poll topic when I was listening to a student presentation about developing some experiments for the upper-level labs. But, if I have to pick one, I'll go with one of the neutrinos-- let's say the electron neutrino.

Why the electron neutrino? It has the smallest mass of any particle I know of, with an upper limit of something like 1-2 eV/c2, or half a million times smaller than the mass of an electron. But that mass isn't zero, which is pretty darn strange. And nobody really knows why.

The fact that neutrinos have mass at all is one of the few experimental observations that definitely point to physics beyond what we know already (most of the other arguments for exotic theories are based on mathematical elegance or the lack thereof), and to the best of my knowledge (which admittedly isn't great), nobody's got a solid explanation for them.

Put that together with the absolutely astonishing experiments people put together to detect the things, and, well, can there be any doubt that neutrinos are the coolest fundamental particle out there?

(OK, this might actually be dorkier than the previous dorky poll...)

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Oh piffle! The absolutely bestest particle is the axion. Supersymmetry says it must absolutely exist and the sun's core must be an absolutely obscenely humongous source. Axions are absolutely trivial to detect at high sensitivity with high confidence...

... and there ain't none nohow nowhere.

Next best is the neutralino, the stuff of cold Dark Matter. Giggle. Third in line is the Higgs that gotta gotta gotta be in the LHC, and won't. Bad theory cannot be saved by expensive experimentation. Physical reality doesn't care about politics.

There is some potential for a fun crossover into sexual innuendo as well. For instance, I might wonder about someone who chooses "top" vs "bottom".

When I discover a new fundamental partical, I'm going to name it the "moron". But I haven't discovered it yet, so it can't be my favorite.

Re: top and bottom, I'm very sad that the alternate names "truth" and "beauty" didn't stick.

Right now, I'd say that my favorite particle is the Lightest Supersymmetric Particle (LSP). Yeah, I know, that hasn't been discovered either, but at least there's a theory for it, unlike the moron. If the LHC does discovery supersymmetry, and the lightest (stable) supersymmetric particle seems to have the right properties, then we may well have finally identified exactly what non-baryonic dark matter is, and that would be very cool.


It's not elementary and all, but surely the J/psi qualifies. And maybe it's just me being juvenile but top and bottom are definitely way cooler than truth and beauty :)

Muon. I just like the name. (shrug)

My choice for theoretical particle is still the Higgs boson, mostly because I enjoyed Leon Lederman's book on it, and entertainingly-written science books are among my favorite things.

The electron.

I like neutrinos...and it does not matter to me whether they know it or not

By secret milkshake (not verified) on 25 Jul 2006 #permalink

Z_0 b/c I have two z's in my name.

By frumious b (not verified) on 25 Jul 2006 #permalink

I just brought the total on the other poll up to 49. Someone should be able to give it the last push into non-dorkdom.

Oh yes, my vote on this one too:

Because everyone else is ignoring the rules of the poll: I pick the pion. Yukawa's prediction of it's existence/mass is about the only thing I can understand about QFT at this point.

If following the rules is a must: the muon neutrino. It combines the coolness of the word muon with the coolness of recent neutrino physics.

and only particles that have actually been detected in experiments count, so no hypothetical super-symmetric partner particles.

Oops. OK, I violated the rules. I'm naughty.

Then I will choose the muon, because of the quote "Who ordered that?"

That's just awesome. It's very neat to discover something real that you had no clue might be there.


Got to agree with you: definitely the electron neutrino, though I'm still baffled trying to wrap my head around the notion that the flavor eigenstates are not the mass eigenstates.

Though somewhat off-topic, this conversation on counting particles in the vacuum makes me re-think my intuitive picture of particles. The number of particles in the field is an observer-dependent quantity?

The fact that people out there actually go around talking seriously about "squarks" and "smuons" just makes me giggle. Because they haven't been detected yet I'll have to join in with the crowd and say muon. Partly because it's fun to say, partly because it threw the world for a loop and partly because measuring it's lifetime was the most fun I had in undergraduate lab (by that I mean it was a lot of fun and not that the others were no fun).

I also need to go post my vote on the other poll. I was at a summer school that week and was only checking e-mail and RSS, not responding.

I have to vote for the top quark. But not for the reason you think, you naughty things! Rather, I was rooting for "truth and beauty" over "top and bottom" way back in the day, and I would have loved to see the headline:

Truth Found at Fermilab

Of course, "Top found at Fermilab" is nearly as good.

I have to agree with Chad, neutrino are pretty cool, light but not massless.

I pretty much agree totally with what he said.

By Philip Roberts (not verified) on 25 Jul 2006 #permalink

Do Gluons have mass? I thought so, and they would be my favorite.

While the neutrinos are quite cool, especially since they oscillate and such, the muon is my favorite. It is 200 times heavier than an electron, but has the same charge, so it is cooler. The tau is even more massive, but I have never detected one of those. I was involved in a secondary cosmic ray muon telescope experiment in high school, so I am partial to muons.

I'm going to go with the electron. Elegant and beautiful, but also tremendously useful and practical.

I think it's very cool that g, the electron magnetic moment, has been measured to 0.76 ppt (Phys. Rev. Lett. 97, 030801 (2006)). From that g, as I understand it, a new value for alpha was calculated.

So, you can stick a single electron in a Penning trap and watch it to glean information on fundamental physics, or you can push around vast sums of them to power our cities and shuttle data around the world. What a great particle.

Darn, why not the photon - it is the only particle that I have to measure (OK, gazillions of them at a time) in my biological work on circadian photoreception.

Muon. Because Muon-catalyzed fusion is one of the coolest (pun intended) things in the world. The real cold fusion, it is amazing that room temperature fusion actually works, and via a process that seems to have more in common with chemistry than physics. Sadly, the muon lifetime is about 10x too short for it to (ever) be a net energy producer, but a Q of 0.1 is nothing to sneeze at.

has a brief description of the effect for those who are curious.

Deprive me of the photon, and I have to go with the electron, even though I spend my time trying to convert the latter into the former. Well, the latter plus a hole. Can I count a hole as a fundemental particle?

The electron wins hands down. I'm a chemist and optical scientist, and there is almost nothing in either field that doesn't mostly revolve around the behavior of the little buggers.

By Nicholas Condon (not verified) on 27 Jul 2006 #permalink

I have nothing against photons, for the record-- my research uses lasers, after all, so I could hardly object to photons. I just needed to make a cut-off somewhere, and figured that was as good a place as any.

If nothing else, it gives people something to complain about...