News FocusParticle Physics

Exploring the Proton Sea

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Science  22 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5401, pp. 472-474
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5401.472

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Recent studies probing deep inside the proton are revealing much more than the expected three quarks and the gluons holding them together. Physicists are finding a churning and bubbling sea of "virtual" particles that pop into existence for an instant, then disappear again, bathing the more enduring components in a quantum flux. The more researchers study this sea, the more surprises it throws up, but charting it is important for future experiments: The world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider now being built at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, will slam protons together at enormous energies. Knowing what is in the proton is essential for calculating what will come out of those collisions.