How particle detectors capture matter’s hidden, beautiful reality

Emily Conover in Science News:

At every moment, subatomic particles stream in unfathomable numbers through your body. Each second, about 100 billion neutrinos from the sun pass through your thumbnail, and you’re bathed in a rain of muons, birthed in Earth’s atmosphere. Even humble bananas emit positrons, the electron’s antimatter counterpart. A whole universe of particles exists, and we are mostly oblivious, largely because these particles are invisible.

When I first learned, as a teenager, that this untold world of particles existed, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And when I thought about it, I could barely breathe. I was, to steal a metaphor from writer David Foster Wallace, a fish who has only just noticed she’s swimming in water. The revelation that we’re stewing in a particle soup is why I went on to study physics, and eventually, to write about it.

To truly fathom matter at its most fundamental level, people must be able to visualize this hidden world. That’s where particle detectors come in. They spot traces of the universe’s most minuscule constituents, making these intangible concepts real. What’s more, particle detectors reveal beauty: Particles leave behind graceful spirals of bubbles, flashes of light and crisp lines of sparks.

More here.