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An alternative way to picture the standard model of particle physics

The classic depiction of the fundamental constituents of matter fails to accurately represent their relationships and what is missing – here’s how to do better

By Abigail Beall

6 September 2023

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The standard model of particle physics is often illustrated as a simple grid showing the 17 basic particles (shown above). But an alternative way of visualising it reveals the complex rules that govern how the particles and forces interact.

The conventional grid shows three generations of quarks (which feel the strong force) and leptons (which don’t). Then there are the bosons that mediate three of the fundamental forces of nature – the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism. But it doesn’t give us the full picture.

For one, there are parts missing, like the fact that most particles can occur in two forms of a property called handedness: right-handed and left-handed. It also tells us nothing about which particles feel which forces. There are mysteries it glosses over, too, like the fact there are no right-handed neutrinos, at least that we know of. “The standard grid, as lovely as it is, looks finished,” says Chris Quigg, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. “But the standard model is not finished.”

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Quigg thought we needed a new way to visualise the theory that reflected its messiness. In 2005, he came up with his answer: the double simplex (shown above). Made of two pyramids, linked by the Higgs boson, one half represents left-handed particles and the other right-handed ones. Each pyramid vertex groups generations of …

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