Particle Physics and Astrophysics Research

Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the elementary constituents of matter and radiation, and the interactions between them. It is also called high energy physics, because many elementary particles do not occur under normal circumstances in nature, but can be created and detected during energetic collisions of other particles, as is done in particle accelerators. Research in this area has produced a long list of particles.

Modern particle physics research is focused on subatomic particles, which have less structure than atoms. These include atomic constituents such as electrons, protons, and neutrons (protons and neutrons are actually composite particles, made up of quarks), particles produced by radiative and scattering processes, such as photons, neutrinos, and muons, as well as a wide range of exotic particles.

Strictly speaking, the term particle is a misnomer because the dynamics of particle physics are governed by quantum mechanics. As such, they exhibit wave-particle duality, displaying particle-like behavior under certain experimental conditions and wave-like behavior in others (more technically they are described by state vectors in a Hilbert space; see quantum field theory). Following the convention of particle physicists, "elementary particles" refer to objects such as electrons and photons, it is well known that these "particles" display wave-like properties as well.

All the particles and their interactions observed to date can almost be described entirely by a quantum field theory called the Standard Model. The Standard Model has 17 species of elementary particles (12 fermions (24 if you count antiparticles separately), 4 vector bosons (5 if you count antiparticles separately), and 1 scalar bosons), which can combine to form composite particles, accounting for the hundreds of other species of particles discovered since the 1960s. The Standard Model has been found to agree with almost all the experimental tests conducted to date. However, most particle physicists believe that it is an incomplete description of nature, and that a more fundamental theory awaits discovery. In recent years, measurements of neutrino mass have provided the first experimental deviations from the Standard Model.

Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the universe, including the physical properties (luminosity, density, temperature, and chemical composition) of celestial objects such as galaxies, stars, planets, exoplanets, and the interstellar medium, as well as their interactions. The study of cosmology is theoretical astrophysics at scales much larger than the size of particular gravitationally-bound objects in the universe.Because astrophysics is a very broad subject, astrophysicists typically apply many disciplines of physics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, nuclear and particle physics, and atomic and molecular physics. In practice, modern astronomical research involves a substantial amount of physics.