The particle physics of you
||Not only are we made of fundamental particles, we also produce them and are constantly bombarded by them throughout the day.|
Fourteen billion years ago, when the hot, dense speck that was our universe quickly expanded, all of the matter and antimatter that existed should have annihilated and left us nothing but energy. And yet, a small amount of matter survived.
We ended up with a world filled with particles. And not just any particles — particles whose masses and charges were just precise enough to allow human life. Here are a few facts about the particle physics of you that will get your electrons jumping.
The particles we're made of
About 99 percent of your body is made up of atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. You also contain much smaller amounts of the other elements that are essential for life.
While most of the cells in your body regenerate every seven to 15 years, many of the particles that make up those cells have actually existed for millions of millennia. The hydrogen atoms in you were produced in the big bang, and the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms were made in burning stars. The very heavy elements in you were made in exploding stars.
The size of an atom is governed by the average location of its electrons. Nuclei are around 100,000 times smaller than the atoms they're housed in. If the nucleus were the size of a peanut, the atom would be about the size of a baseball stadium. If we lost all the dead space inside our atoms, we would each be able to fit into a particle of lead dust, and the entire human race would fit into the volume of a sugar cube.
As you might guess, these spaced-out particles make up only a tiny portion of your mass. The protons and neutrons inside of an atom's nucleus are each made up of three quarks. The mass of the quarks, which comes from their interaction with the Higgs field, accounts for just a few percent of the mass of a proton or neutron. Gluons, carriers of the strong nuclear force that holds these quarks together, are completely massless.
If your mass doesn't come from the masses of these particles, where does it come from? Energy. Scientists believe that almost all of your body's mass comes from the kinetic energy of the quarks and the binding energy of the gluons.