Exotic Pentaquark Particle Explanation

Explanation for the General Public

Subatomic particles made from quarks have been found to fit into two categories: (1) particles made from 3 quarks, called baryons, and (2) particles made from one quark and one anti-quark, called mesons. For example, the proton and the neutron are members of the baryon group. The meson group does not have any stable members, and hence is less well known. An example is the "pi" meson, which exists only for tens of nanoseconds, but long enough to study in the laboratory. Some combinations, such as a particle made from 4 quarks, are not allowed by the rules of the strong force, Quantum Chromodynamics (or QCD for short).

The pentaquark particle, if it exists, would be a combination of 4 quarks and one anti-quark. This has the same quarks as the combination of baryon plus a meson, and so it satisfies the rules of QCD. However, there is no experimental evidence for a stable pentaquark particle. Recently, several experiments reported evidence for a short-lived particle, called the "Theta", which has characteristics of a pentaquark. On the other hand, there are roughly an equal number of experiments that did not see any evidence (but were expected to see pentaquarks). Now the question is: does the "Theta" particle exist or not?

Another question is: why should you care? One answer is that if the pentaquark exists, then it is a new catagory of subatomic particle and hence it will help us learn about the strong force (QCD) that binds quarks together into matter. While this does not have direct implications in today's society, we hope that this will lead to new technologies in the future. Just consider that about 100 years ago, the electron was considered to be a useless piece of knowledge! Today, electronics are everywhere. Another example is radiation. Fifty years ago, who would have thought that radiation therapy would be a treatment for cancer? While we can't predict the future, we hope that learning more about the forces that bind matter together will lead to new technologies.

Last modified: April 15, 2005
Kenneth Hicks