Meson - History

History

From theoretical considerations, Hideki Yukawa in 1934 predicted the existence and the approximate mass of the "meson" as the carrier of the nuclear force that holds atomic nuclei together. If there was no nuclear force, all nuclei with two or more protons would fly apart because of the electromagnetic repulsion. Yukawa called his carrier particle the meson, from mesos, the Greek word for intermediate, because its predicted mass was between that of the electron and that of the proton, which has about 1,836 times the mass of the electron. Yukawa had originally named his particle the "mesotron", but he was corrected by the physicist Werner Heisenberg (whose father was a professor of Greek at the University of Munich). Heisenberg pointed out that there is no "tr" in the Greek word "mesos".

The first candidate for Yukawa's meson, then dubbed the "mu meson" (or muon) was discovered 1936 by Carl David Anderson and others in the decay products of cosmic ray interactions. The mu meson had about the right mass to be Yukawa's carrier of the strong nuclear force, but over the course of the next decade, it became evident that it was not the right particle. It was eventually found that the mu meson did not participate in the strong nuclear interaction at all, but rather behaved like a heavy version of the electron, and is in fact a lepton rather than a meson.

There were years of delays in subatomic particle research during World War II in 1939–45, with most physicists working in applied projects for wartime necessities. When the war ended in August 1945, many physicists gradually returned to peacetime research. The first true meson to be discovered was the "pi meson" (or pion) in 1947, by Cecil Powell, César Lattes, and Giuseppe Occhialini, who were investigating cosmic ray products at the University of Bristol in England. It also had about the right mass, and over the next few years, more experiments showed that the pion was indeed involved in strong interactions. The pion (as a virtual particle) is the primary force carrier for the nuclear force in atomic nuclei. Other mesons, such as the rho mesons are involved in mediating this force as well, but to lesser extents. Following the discovery of the pion, Yukawa was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Physics for his predictions.

The word meson has at times been used to mean any force carrier, such as "Z0 meson" which is involved in mediating the weak interaction. However, this spurious usage has fallen out of favor. Mesons are now defined as particles composed of pairs of quarks and antiquarks.

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