Category Archives: Particle Physics

Q: How does Earth’s magnetic field protect us?

Physicist: High energy charged particles rain in on the Earth from all directions, most of them produced by the Sun.  If it weren’t for the Earth’s magnetic field we would be subject to bursts of radiation on the ground that … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Astronomy, Particle Physics, Physics | 5 Comments

Q: What is radioactivity and why is it sometimes dangerous?

Physicist: Here’s every particle you’ve ever interacted with: protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons*.  Dangerous radiation is nothing more mysterious than one of those particles moving crazy fast. The nucleus of some kinds of atoms are unstable and will, given enough … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Biology, Particle Physics, Physics | 2 Comments

Q: Why does carbon dating detect when things were alive? How are the atoms in living things any different from the atoms in dead things?

Physicist: As far as carbon dating is concerned, the difference between living things and dead things is that living things eat and breathe and dead things are busy with other stuff, like sitting perfectly still.  Eating and breathing is how … Continue reading

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Q: Why does it take thousands of years for light to escape the Sun?

Physicist: The original statement is often something like, “It takes tens of thousands of years for a photon to get from the core to the surface of the Sun, but only eight minutes to get from the Sun to the … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Math, Particle Physics, Physics, Probability | 2 Comments

Q: What are quasi-particles? Why do phonons and photons have such similar names?

Physicist: Prefixes like “quasi-”, “psuedo-”, and sometimes “meta-” are basically used to mean “sorta like… but different… you know?”.  Quasiparticles behave like particles in a few fairly important ways, but aren’t actual particles at all.  The most important way, and … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Particle Physics, Physics, Quantum Theory | 4 Comments

Q: What is the Planck length? What is its relevance?

Physicist: Physicists are among the laziest and most attractive people in the world, and as such don’t like to spend too much time doing real work.  In an effort to streamline equations “natural units” are used.  The idea behind natural … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Particle Physics, Physics, Quantum Theory | 19 Comments