Research Fellows Directory
Dr Deirdre Black
University of Cambridge
My research is in high energy particle physics, and my primary focus is on light mesons. These subatomic particles are less than a millionth of a billionth of a metre in size. Like protons and neutrons, mesons are not uniform solid objects, but are made of more fundamental objects called quarks and gluons. For example, at the simplest level, the proton and neutron are made of three quarks “glued” together by gluons. This gluey force is called the strong force because it is much stronger than other forces we know like gravity or magnetism.
Although we know the equations containing all the information about how quarks and gluons interact, they are so complicated to solve completely that one strategy is to figure out smaller pieces of the large puzzle of understanding the world inside the proton. In my research I try to understand the interactions of the pseudoscalar and scalar meson particles, and their composition in terms of quarks and gluons, which is a piece in this puzzle. We have found evidence that these scalar mesons may actually be quite exotic, made of two quarks and two antiquarks.
Why does this kind of research matter? Firstly, it helps us to gain a kind of understanding of our what our universe is made of and how it is changing at its most fundamental level. Another more immediate reason is that building the incredibly complex machines required to probe the subatomic world (such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN), and developing mathematical and computer methods used by scientists internationally to analyse data, leads to knowledge and technological advances which benefit many people. For example the World Wide Web and PET scanners were born out of high energy physics research. Finally there is the future. After all, in the early 20th century when some researchers developed quantum mechanics, which seemed “way out”, who could have guessed that quantum physics would pave the way to the electronics industry?