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  • 'Strange Quark' Reveals Its Secrets
Sep 2006
ADELAIDE, Australia, Sept. 5, 2006 -- An international group of physicists has been able to uncover information about one of the universe's most mysterious particles, the strange quark. Their work will serve as a foundation for new experiments by particle physicists around the world, a member of the research team said.

The "holy grail"  in the world of particle physics is to discover and describe new particles that comprise the universe's tiniest building blocks. Now University of Adelaide associate professor Derek Leinweber, leading a team of international theoretical physicists, has established a new approach to precision calculations on the properties of subatomic particles.

The proton, one of the three main components of an atom, is known to consist of point-like particles called quarks, bound together by gluons. There are six different types of quarks and the most mysterious of these is the "strange quark," which constantly appears and disappears within the proton. Its brief appearances have made it difficult to determine how it affects the proton's structure.

The new finding, published recently in the journal Physical Review Letters, is a precise calculation of the strange quark's distribution within the proton. The calculation predicts that the short-lived strange quarks display an unanticipated level of symmetry in their journey.

"Technically the strange quark contribution to the proton's charge distribution has proven elusive," said Leinweber, who is deputy director of the university's Special Research Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter. "At the University of Adelaide, working with physicists at the University of Edinburgh and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in the US, we've been able to calculate the strange contribution with unprecedented accuracy by applying a unique combination of cutting-edge numerical and analytical approaches.

"We have combined expertise in fundamental lattice simulations on supercomputers together with breakthrough techniques in effective field theory calculations. These are two separate areas of physics which have been used together in a way that no one else has thought of. It gives particular strength to the University of Adelaide's research in this area," he said. 

"There is a huge industry in particle physics with groups of researchers around the world making new measurements that could reveal physics beyond the standard model of the universe. Our result presents a huge challenge to experimental physicists in planning the next generation of experiments. Billions of dollars are going to be spent based on this result," Leinweber said.

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