Generation (particle physics)
|neutral||electron neutrino||muon neutrino||tau neutrino|
In particle physics, a generation or family is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their flavour quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical.
There are three generations according to the Standard Model of particle physics. Each generation is divided into two types of leptons and two types of quarks. The two leptons may be classified into one with electric charge −1 (electron-like) and one neutral (neutrino); the two quarks may be classified into one with charge −1⁄3 (down-type) and one with charge +2⁄3 (up-type). The basic features of quark-lepton generation or families, such as their masses and mixings etc., can be described by some of the proposed family symmetries.
Each member of a higher generation has greater mass than the corresponding particle of the previous generation, with the possible exception of the neutrinos (whose small but non-zero masses have not been accurately determined). For example, the first-generation electron has a mass of only MeV/c2, the second-generation 0.511 muon has a mass of , and the third-generation 106 MeV/c2tau has a mass of (almost twice as heavy as a 1777 MeV/c2proton). This mass hierarchy causes particles of higher generations to decay to the first generation, which explains why everyday matter (atoms) is made of particles from the first generation. Electrons surround a nucleus made of protons and neutrons, which contain up and down quarks. The second and third generations of charged particles do not occur in normal matter and are only seen in extremely high-energy environments such as cosmic rays or particle accelerators. The term generation was first introduced by Haim Harari in Les Houches Summer School, 1976.
Neutrinos of all generations stream throughout the universe but rarely interact with normal matter. It is hoped that a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the generations of the leptons may eventually explain the ratio of masses of the fundamental particles, and shed further light on the nature of mass generally, from a quantum perspective.
Fourth and further generations are considered to be unlikely. Some of the arguments against the possibility of a fourth generation are based on the subtle modifications of precision electroweak observables that extra generations would induce; such modifications are strongly disfavored by measurements. Furthermore, a fourth generation with a "light" neutrino (one with a mass less than about ) has been ruled out by measurements of the widths of the 45 GeV/c2Z boson at CERN's Large Electron–Positron Collider (LEP). Nonetheless, searches at high-energy colliders for particles from a fourth generation continue, but as yet no evidence has been observed. In such searches, fourth-generation particles are denoted by the same symbols as third-generation ones with an added prime (e.g. b′ and t′).
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