PANIC11 - Rutherford Centennial

HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAM—Topics

 

What kinds of questions can we ask about nuclear and particle physics?

  1. Physicists have discovered that electric charge comes from particles like electrons, which provide the basis for all electric charges. Particles also have something called mass, which is basically how much resistance to motion an object has. How could one explain mass scientifically, and what gives particles mass?
  2. Judging by gravitational forces, only about 15% of the mass of the universe comes from normal matter. What does the other 85% come from?
  3. Can spacetime be warped or made to undergo fluctuations like a typical medium? If so, what can cause this?
  4. The four fundamental forces are gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Are these four forces truly entirely separate from each other, and have there always been four?
  5. An atomic nucleus has a number of positively charged protons within small distances of one another. What keeps them from flying apart? What about the quarks inside the protons?
  6. If matter is made of electrons, neutrons, and protons, what would happen if electrons were positive and protons negative? What if every particle had its opposite charge? Would we be able to have the same kind of universe we do today?
  7. Neutrinos are tiny, electrically neutral particles with nearly zero mass. So how can we detect their presence?
  8. Most particles are invisible to the naked eye. What kinds of technology can we use to observe them, then, and what sorts of techniques can be used to search for specific types of particles?
  9. What would happen if we brought protons or neutrons to high enough temperatures to separate the quarks that make them up?
  10. Does antimatter exist naturally in the universe? Where can we find it, and why is it so sparse, while matter is so common?
  11. Is light speed really the fastest information can travel? What if it were possible to link two particles so they always act the same...no matter how far apart they go?
  12. What is a quantum computer? How is it different, both in form and abilities, from a traditional computer?
  13. Is time always constant no matter how you look at it or how fast you are moving? What about distance? Energy? The speed of light?
  14. Are particles each unrelated to each other, or can they all be paired up in such a way that all of their properties are defined simply by being in that pair?
  15. At the most fundamental level, what is everything made of? If string theory is right and the answer is tiny, vibrating strings, how does that explain the universe that has come out of it?
  16. If the quarks in a proton only account for a little of its spin, where does the rest of the spin come from?
  17. Does a microscope have to use light? Are there ways to generate images of things by bombarding them with particles that have mass?
  18. Atoms are the building blocks of matter, and protons are one of the building blocks of atoms, which were supposed to be the indivisible basis of matter. What made scientists realize that there were particles inside of protons as well?
  19. What is the uncertainty principle? In a way, allows for energy conservation to be violated for incredibly short time periods. How does that work mathematically? How and where would we observe this in real life?
  20. How do scientists continue to create heavier elements on the periodic table, even though they are so unstable they do not exist in nature?
  21. Neutrinos have so little mass that scientists had a great struggle even showing that their mass was nonzero at all. So how can they possibly measure it accurately?
  22. Since the neutron, unlike the proton and electron, has no electric charge, how did physicists first discover it?
  23. Why are certain nuclei more stable than others? What keeps those nuclei together, and what allows smaller nuclei to combine or larger nuclei to split in order to increase stability?
  24. The weak force is unique in that it specifically causes decays rather than being able to cause attraction. What types of nuclear decay can occur as a result? What is the importance of each of these types?
  25. Provided one is intelligent and cautious, nuclear energy is actually no more dangerous than other forms of energy. What does nuclear energy come from and how can we utilize it, and why might it seem so dangerous to people?
  26. A lone neutron has a very brief lifetime. Why is it, then, that neutrons in atomic nuclei last indefinitely?
  27. How can something like an electron have an electric dipole moment? What does it even mean for a single particle to have an electric dipole moment?
  28. Some elements are far more common than others. This stability is because of their nuclei, nicknamed magic nuclei. What does this term mean, and why are these nuclei so important for atomic stability?
  29. What is the Standard Model of particle physics? Does it describe everything about particle physics that physicists have discovered, or are there shortcomings to it? If so, why do we use it at all?
  30. Particle accelerators play a huge role in research in particle and nuclear physics. How do particle accelerators work, and what kind of contributions can they make that would not be made otherwise?

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