12 Particles Of Matter And 4 Forces Of Nature…

Seeing Professor Brian Cox on A Night With The Stars last night reminded me that I had not finished writing this post about the fundamental particles of matter.  The idea came from a video that quotes Prof Cox in the chorus referring to the twelve particles of matter and the four forces of nature. Many of you know that the four forces of nature are: gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force.

Four Forces Of Nature

Gravity is the very weak force of attraction that exists between all objects. The more massive the object, the greater the force. Gravity on Earth is about 10N/kg – so every kg of your matter is pulled towards the centre of the Earth with a force of about 10 Newton. You can read a little bit more about it on this blog by starting here or by searching for the word gravity. The moon, which is a quarter the size of the earth has a gravitational force just 1/6th  that on Earth – so your weight on the moon would be just 1/6th what it is on Earth. You would definitely be able to set a high jump personal best.

The electromagnetic force exists between charged particles. It is the force responsible for electric current, magnetism and light (a form of electromagnetic radiation). Any wire carrying a current also has a magnetic field around it. You can find out more about electromagnets from this blog post. It is the force that gives you an electric shock from the static charges built up by a Van Der Graaf generator; it is also the force that prevents you from passing your hand through solid objects.

Then there is the more mysterious ‘strong force’. This is the force that holds protons and neutrons together. Its effect, unlike gravity or the electromagnetic force, are local; it doesn’t reach outside the proton or neutron. Protons are positively charged particles in the nucleus of atoms, neutrons are (as the name suggests) neutral so have no overall charge. Between them they give atoms their mass. For example, a hydrogen atom has one proton in its nucleus so we say that the relative mass of hydrogen is 1. A carbon atom has six protons and six neutrons so the relative atomic mass of carbon is 12.

The last fundamental force of nature is known as the weak force (or weak interaction). Like the strong force, this acts at the subatomic level so we don’t experience it directly. It is the force that is responsible for atomic decay and radiation. It is also the force that allows hydrogen atoms to fuse into helium inside stars. This last process is the one that produces all the sun’s light and heat so it is quite important! You can read about the Sun here and about nuclear fusion more generally here.

Twelve Particles Of Matter

Giving you a clear definition of the 12 fundamental particles of matter is less simple because for every statement a lengthy explanation seems to be needed. Physics uses something called the standard model, to describe the 12 fermions that make up the basic set of particles. These twelve fermions are divided into two sets of six quarks and six leptons. The quarks are called up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom. The leptons are called the electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau and tau neutrino.

There are also the force carrying particles called bosons. They are photons (responsible for the electromagnetic force), W and Z bosons that cause the weak force and gluons that result in the strong force. There may also be a boson caused the Higgs boson that would help to explain gravity.

Thus, a proton is made from two up quarks and a down quark held together with gluons. A neutron is built from two down quarks and an up quark, again with gluons providing the force that holds them together. The large hadron collider at CERN accelerates protons to a fraction of the speed of light and smashes them up in detectors that can see the quarks, leptons and bosons flying out of the wreckage. You can read a little more about the LHC here.


  1. Suggest three ways you could make the electromagnet shown above stronger.
  2. Name a force (not mentioned above) that tends to oppose motion and often results in the production of heat.
  3. A man has a mass of 76kg on earth. What would his mass be (a) on the moon (b) in deep space? What would his weight be (in Newton) (c) on the moon (d) in deep space?
  4. How fast do photons travel through a vacuüm (choose your units!)?

About SFScience

Head of Science at Summer Fields, Oxford

38 Responses to “12 Particles Of Matter And 4 Forces Of Nature…”

  1. 1. a) A higher voltage battery, b) Longer Nail with more wire coiled around it c) make sure the wire is as thin as possible and coiled a lot so that you can increase the charge by increasing the length of charged current?
    2. Wouldn’t mass stay the same despite the location? c) If earth is 10N/1kg then he would be 760N so on Earth. Weight = mass kg *gravity N N=76kg*10 N=760 and 1/6 of that would be N= 126.67 on the moon
    3. Isn’t a photon a quantum particle of light, and light in a vacuum travels at 299,792,458 m/s

    Please correct me! i’m curious to see what the answers are and why. Thanks for the article!

    • Good answers all around!

      1 c) I was thinking of changing the iron core in the electromagnet to make it stronger but that does presuppose that the ideal core was not already present.

      3 Yes – mass stays the same and weight depends upon gravity.

      4 The last question was just an attempt to ask what the speed of light is in a vacuum without directly mentioning light but you saw through my subterfuge!

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

    • 1. Increase the torque ratio, maybe add a 1:75 ratio using a gear train, though if I am correct that decreases speed, also decrease the distance between battery and receiver, lastly increase battery power.
      2. I would say friction

  2. Thanks!
    Then in deep space (assuming you were far from any big objects) would you be 0N? Completely weightless? or would you always be subject to some amount of gravity depending on what’s close by?

  3. In deep space you are essentially weightless. There would be a pull from any nearby objects, proportional to its mass and the square of the distance it is away. You can’t really hide from gravity!

  4. Would number 2 be friction? I’m not a scientist!

    • Sorry for the slow reply! It has been exam central here so I have rather neglected the blog. Friction would do me very well as an answer – you clearly are a scientist after all. Very many thanks for stopping by!

  5. thanks to the sfscience to make me aware of the particles of matter , i am math educator , thanks for updating my knowledge, so I can encourage and develop my students better in math and phy.

  6. I’ve linked this to a post and as with the Higgs, well morale is on a high. Science has just become American Idol .

    Thanks SFScience

  7. Very interesting! Where should we read up more on the 12 particles of matter?

    • I think I used the excellent, and very detailed, article at Wikipedia as my primary resource. It links out to more learned and comprehensive papers. I kept mine simple, in part because my target audience is about twelve, and in part because of my own limitations. It is difficult to describe these things without the complex mathematics used to make the original discoveries.

  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZGINaRUEkU – Here’s the song that was talked about in the blog :)

    I love it, also thanks for clearing that up in your blog, this stuff interests me :)

  9. thanks! sfscience i am a kid of 13 years from India. i am beginner of science and love science, my one of physics that is still pending. i love cosmology and i have started writing one science book. i was stuck into one of my questions and i found your page to be very very useful. thanks a lot.

    Please solve this question as i need to attend it for one my patents, please solve:
    If a car is travelling at a constant velocity then its acceleration is zero.
    then F = ma, which means F= m*0,
    then Work done = F * d or 0 * d, that means work done is zero.
    That means the power of engine = work/ time or 0/time = 0, then the engine ‘s work is zero,
    How can be this possible if the engine takes in such huge resource and gives up a zero power.

    i know in physics sometimes it’s possible, but i need to find the power of an engine of a boat like that, can i get an immediate help ,please. you can show it any ways calculus, algebra arithmetic or anything.

    • My Dear Amik,

      That is a tricky problem. I will put it to my students and see what we come up with.

      They are only thirteen but I have great faith in their ability.

    • OK – the ‘work done’ is not zero because you can calculate the kinetic energy produced by the car as ½mv². The car does have a velocity even though its acceleration is zero. The rate at which this work is done will be the power – again not zero.

      Does this help?

  10. Surely, since the car is travelling at a constant speed, the forces are balanced. This is not to say that there are NO forces pushing the car forward, just that they are equal to the friction exerted by the air. Therefore, these forces cancel out, and thus there is no force.The huge resource is used to sustain this balanced state under pressure, e.g. having to travel at 30 mph or whatever.

  11. I am not sure that your diaeresis (Microsoft word) over the second u of vacuum is justified. This would imply that the “uu” is not a diphthong, as I for one would pronounce it, but rather two separate vowel sounds, as in the French “Noël”. Just a thought!

    • I had not spotted it before. I wonder how it got there? It wasn’t on purpose. It must have been the result of some proofing tool or other. I will leave it so that your comment makes sense.

  12. Oh, and thankyou for your faith!!!

  13. 1. Increase the current of the circuit, add more coils, reduce resistance.
    2. Friction
    3a. 76kg
    b. 76kg
    c. 76kg * 1.6249m/s^2 = 123.4924N
    d. 76kg*0m/s^2 = 0N
    4. 299,792,458m/s

    • Oh so you’ve started expressing gravity as acceleration now! I would have been happy with 1.6 N/kg. Brian Cox would be proud of your more purist approach.

  14. I suppose that my first and last answers for 1. are the same!

  15. I looked up the gravity of the moon on wikipedia, and that said 1.6249 m/s^2, and although I wasn’t sure what that meant, I used it anyway. I have been reading “Why does e=mc^2″, though, by Brian Cox, which is quite enlightening.

  16. 4. Since I am a lazy person I am going to say that the speed of light is c

  17. 1. Cant we use a superconductor.
    Plz ans this.. Electroforce + magnetic force = e.m force + weak force = electroweak force..
    Can’t we combine e.w force with gravity or strong force.??


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