If you look closely, almost everything we know about the universe boils down to a handful of elementary particles. These entities constitute individual threads of the scientific masterpiece that is the standard model of particle physics, the best current picture of matter and how it works.
Its roots lie in the quantum revolution of the early 20th century, where the classical, common sense notion that everything is predictable was casually discarded. In contrast, the development of the standard model was hardly a revolution. Rather, it was more like a new order gradually forming, built piecemeal by dozens of physicists over decades.
Many expected the new order to fail. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, the Standard Model has withstood every test we’ve put to it, including attempts to create new particles or find new forces that we can’t predict. 6 ways you can find out). So how exactly did physicists throughout the 20th century come up with such an unbreakable framework? It’s one of the most successful theories we’ve ever devised. It’s a story.
Life in the 1920s was simpler. As far as anyone knew, the only elementary particles were photons, which make up light. A proton at the center of an atom. and electrons that revolve around the nucleus. It was a simple picture, but disturbingly constant.
According to quantum physics, which was born in that decade, there was no way to create or destroy these particles. But, for example, when you shine a flashlight on something, the electrons inside the flashlight appear to be producing something.