“The Incredible Shrinking Proton!”

Don’t you just love NPR Science Friday? I do.

Here’s the link to an excellent Science Friday about how there is evidence that the radius of the proton is different than we previously thought! To me, this news is absolutely incredible! andsooo exciting! If these findings are verified, this could mean nothing but lots of new physics! And we love that!

But, man is this weird to me. As a physics student you get the sense that the proton is a particle that is reasonably well understood. Yah got this thing that is positively charged, and not elementary. Rather the proton is made up of three particles called quarks (two up quarks and one down quark) that are indeed thought to be elementary. I mean, by george! The number of protons in a nucleus determines which element an atom is — in other words, protons determine almost all of chemistry!!

So, as I’m sitting here gasping for air and contemplating the possibilities of such new findings, I can’t help but think about the countless times I and so many others have used the radius of a proton in calculations. Don’t misunderstand me, the results of these calculations are not suddenly all wrong, rather our understanding of what we’re doing in the calculations must be slightly off. Does that make sense? For example, we said the radius of the proton is X, and used that number X in the calculation and got an answer that matches the what we see in experiment. We didn’t use the wrong number X, rather, calling it “the radius of the proton” was what was wrong — interesting, right?!

Alright, enough blather. Enjoy this! And feel free to ask any questions you’d like, as always.

Just a note: something called supersymmetry will be mentioned as a possible explanation for the strange results. I’ve actually spoken about this a little bit before in previous posts, but it’s cool because the explanation in the talk is pretty good. In fact, one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

**Muchos props to Grace M. at Velvet Park Media for this link.


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