First of all a riddle – What can be up, down, top, bottom, strange, and charm?
Answer: A quark.
Quarks are what make up protons and neutrons. There are 6 kinds of quarks, called “flavours”. A proton is two up quarks and one down. A neutron is two downs and one up. Quarks like to hang out in groups of three. So with six kinds of quarks there are lots of possibilities. Not all the possibilities have been observed. The recent discovery shows a new combination that had not been seen before. The combination they found was : up, bottom and strange. Quarks have different masses, so this new particle is 6 times heavier than a proton. The charge overall is neutral since an up is +2/3, a bottom is – 1/3 and a strange is also – 1/3.
They get these particles by smashing streams of protons and neutrons together in a high energy environment which allows quarks to change flavour. (Ice cream would change flavour too at a trillion volts by the way.) The purpose of all of this is to understand the nature of matter itself and why the Universe exists the way it does. The new particle that was discovered has a very short lifetime, decaying in a fraction of a second. So there could be no way that you could have these particles inside of a nucleus rather than neutrons.
Understanding the forces between quarks and how they interact is exploring a level deeper than what we talk about in lower secondary science. In lower sec, we explore the forces between atoms and how atoms share electrons and bond together. Upper sec and A-Level go into even more detail. The knowledge of atoms led to modern chemistry which provided the understanding of how to produce so many new materials – steel, plastic, even computer chips. Who knows where the knowledge of the next level will lead us. And is this level the smallest level, or are quarks made up of even smaller things that we haven’t seen yet? Maybe someone in school right now will answer that question someday.