Well now that word is thoroughly ruined for you! Although it didn’t have far to go; it was a weird fucking word to start with. Named after a word from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, quarks are the building blocks of hadrons, the two most famous of which are protons and neutrons. Quarks come in 6 flavors: up and down, top and bottom, and charm and strange. I take this as a sign that physicists, quite sensibly so, have given up on the universe making sense and are just having fun with it now.

So we all know e=mc2, but how many of you actually know what that means? Ok, nerds, yes, I know you know, shut up. Everyone else? Well, energy and matter can be converted from one to the other —the amount of energy (e) produced is equal to the amount of matter (m) destroyed times the speed of light (c), which is about 300 million meters per second (that’s a lot).

Until recently, this had only been observed in nuclear reactions, which can be in the form of either fusion (making two atoms one) or fission (making one atom two). However, at the Large Hadron Collider (the thing that set up the alternate dark timeline that we’re clearly in), scientists detected a doubly charged baryon (the relative of protons and neutrons that you’ve never heard of). This would have been formed by fusion of quarks. They calculated the energy from this reaction would have been 8 times the energy released by the fusion of hydrogen atoms.

If your first thought was, “Oh cool, they could make a weapon out of that!”, please consider a career in government or a James Bond villian. If your first thought was, “Oh shit, they might make a weapon out of that!” congrats, you’re sane. You also share the same worry as the scientists who made the discovery. They immediately considered the military applications, and wouldn’t have published if there were any. Fortunately, they worked out that the quarks are so unstable that setting them up in a chain reaction would be impossible, and even if it were possible, the energy required to set it up would be greater than the energy produced. Nonetheless, this is a great step forward in understanding of particle physics!

So bad news, we don’t get a new super power source. Good news, we don’t have a better way to destroy us all in an instant. We’ll stick to the slow destruction of the environment that we’ve got going on now.




Scientific American