Light Approach Lands Cutesy Particle Names (Daily Press)

Light Approach Lands Cutesy Particle Names

Details of Each Quark Influenced Choices

Just because they deal with understanding the fundamental nature of how the universe formed doesn't mean that scientists can't have a little fun with their work.

Researchers took a light approach when naming the smallest known particles, said CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the world's largest particle-physics center.

First proposed in 1964, the quirky name of "quark" was taken from the line "three quarks for Muster Mark" in James Joyce's novel "Finnegan's Wake."

Six quarks have been found. They differ mostly in their mass. Physicists gave them names based mostly on their physical properties:

The two lightest quarks, the "up" and "down," get their names because they seem to be pointing up and down, respectively.

The third-lightest quark is called "strange" because it decays so much slower than scientists had expected. They thought that property was weird.

The fourth-lightest quark, "charm," was just given its cutesy name on a whim. It was found in 1974 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and separately at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The two heaviest quarks, "top" and "bottom," were originally called "truth" and "beauty" — but even scientists thought that was a bit too much fun. The bottom quark was first observed at Fermi National Laboratory in 1977. The top quark (the most massive quark: it's about 35,000 times more massive than the up and down quarks that make up most of the universe's matter) was found in 1995 at Fermi Lab.

An experiment looking into how strange quarks affect the formation of protons is about to start at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News.

Researchers say a little fun is also associated with its title.

Called "G-Zero," the project's name refers to a combination of properties of the quark that have little or no effect on the formation of protons.

Researchers joke that the title alludes to the fact that the center will be looking at processes so small, they almost don't exist.

— Michael Hines can be reached at 247-4760 or by e-mail at