Sub-Atomic PArticless
Sub-Atomic PArticless

Subatomic Particles

As the name suggest, these are the particles smaller than an atom. They are the fundamental building blocks of all elements (all matter).

Subatomic particles are smaller than atom. These particles can be composite particles, such as the neutron and proton; or elementary particles, which according to the standard model are not made of other particles. Particle physics and nuclear physics study these particles and how they interact. The concept of a subatomic particle was refined when experiments showed that light could behave like a stream of particles (called photons) as well as exhibiting wave-like properties. This led to the concept of wave–particle duality to reflect that quantum-scale particles behave like both particles and waves.


Another concept, the uncertainty principle, states that some of their properties taken together, such as their simultaneous position and momentum, cannot be measured exactly. The wave–particle duality has been shown to apply not only to photons but to more massive particles as well.

Interactions of particles in the framework of quantum field theory are understood as creation and annihilation of quanta of corresponding fundamental interactions. This blends particle physics with field theory.

Classification of Subatomic particles

By composition

Subatomic particles are either "elementary", that is, not made of multiple other particles, or "composite" which is made of more than one elementary particle bound together.

The elementary particles of the Standard Model are:

  • Six "flavours" of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top.
  • Six types of leptons: electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau, tau neutrino.
  • Twelve-gauge bosons (force carriers): the photon of electromagnetism, the three W and Z bosons of the weak force, and the eight gluons of the strong force.
  • The Higgs boson.


The Standard Model classification of particles

All of these have now been discovered by experiments, with the latest being the top quark (1995), tau neutrino (2000), and Higgs boson (2012).

Various extensions of the Standard Model predict the existence of an elementary graviton particle and many other elementary particles, but none have been discovered as of 2021.

Graphical user interface, application

Description automatically generated


Nearly all composite particles contain multiple quarks (and/or antiquarks) bound together by gluons (with a few exceptions with no quarks, such as positronium and muonium). Those containing few (≤ 5) antiquarks are called hadrons. Due to a property known as colour confinement, quarks are never found singly but always occur in hadrons containing multiple quarks. The hadrons are divided by number of quarks (including antiquarks) into the baryons containing an odd number of quarks (almost always 3), of which the proton and neutron (the two nucleons) are by far the best known; and the mesons containing an even number of quarks (almost always 2, one quark and one antiquark), of which the pions and kaons are the best known.

Except for the proton and neutron, all other hadrons are unstable and decay into other particles in microseconds or less. A proton is made of two up quarks and one down quark, while the neutron is made of two down quarks and one up quark. These commonly bind together into an atomic nucleus, e.g., a helium-4 nucleus is composed of two protons and two neutrons. Most hadrons do not live long enough to bind into nucleus-like composites; those who do (other than the proton and neutron) form exotic nuclei.

By statistics

Any subatomic particle, like any particle in the three-dimensional space that obeys the laws of quantum mechanics, can be either a boson (with integer spin) or a fermion (with odd half-integer spin).


In the Standard Model, all the elementary fermions have spin 1/2, and are divided into the quarks which carry colour charge and therefore feel the strong interaction, and the leptons which do not. The elementary bosons comprise the gauge bosons (photon, W and Z, gluons) with spin 1, while the Higgs boson is the only elementary particle with spin zero.

The hypothetical graviton is required theoretically to have spin 2 but is not part of the Standard Model. Some extensions such as supersymmetry predict additional elementary particles with spin 3/2, but none have been discovered as of 2021.

Due to the laws for spin of composite particles, the baryons (3 quarks) have spin either 1/2 or 3/2 and are therefore fermions; the mesons (2 quarks) have integer spin of either 0 or 1, and are therefore bosons.

By mass

In special relativity, the energy of a particle at rest equals its mass times the speed of light squared, E = mc2. That is, mass can be expressed in terms of energy and vice versa. If a particle has a frame of reference in which it lies at rest, then it has a positive rest mass and is referred to as massive.

All composite particles are massive. Baryons (meaning "heavy") tend to have greater mass than mesons (meaning "intermediate"), which in turn tend to be heavier than leptons (meaning "lightweight"), but the heaviest lepton (the tau particle) is heavier than the two lightest flavours of baryons (nucleons). It is also certain that any particle with an electric charge is massive.

When originally defined in the 1950s, the terms baryons, mesons and leptons referred to masses; however, after the quark model became accepted in the 1970s, it was recognised that baryons are composites of three quarks, mesons are composites of one quark and one antiquark, while leptons are elementary and are defined as the elementary fermions with no colour charge.

All massless particles (particles whose invariant mass is zero) are elementary. These include the photon and gluon, although the latter cannot be isolated.

By decay

Most subatomic particles are not stable. All leptons, as well as baryons decay by either the strong force or weak force (except for the proton). Protons are not known to decay, although whether is it "truly" stable is unknown, as some very important Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) require it to decay. The μ and τ muons, as well as their antiparticles, decay by the weak force. Neutrinos (and antineutrinos) do not decay, but a related phenomenon of neutrino oscillations is thought to exist even in vacuum.



Skiedo Press


Join As Tutor Or Student

Join our community that have more than 10,000 subscribers and learn new things everyday