Eli5: What elements are virtual particles made of?


As the title says. Virtual particles are to my understanding “particles that come into existence at random with their anti-version, they collide and eliminate one another”.

Are these particles made of something?

In: 6

So elements are actually made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Those things are made of particles! What you’re describing are things so small we have to make very educated guesses about them, because trying to see them is impossible. Light would just knock them out of the way instead of bouncing off them.

The current thinking soars to be that the most basic of particles – the quarks,gluons, mesons, baryons, leptons- whatever are actually the physical manifestation of vibrating strings of energy. A certain type of string *s* vibrating at frequency *f* produces an electron, while string *S2* vibrates at frequency *F2* and produces a Higgs Boson.

See? Different string types, different vibrational rates yield different particles. Then those particles come together to form larger particles, then atoms, then molecules, proteins, and there stands Bob. Bob’s your uncle.

Mind you, this is a very simplified version of how SOME physicists think things are put together. I happen to agree with them, which is why I expound on this theory.

I hope this Heros you understand that elementary particles CANNOT be made of elements like gold, aluminum, or Hydrogen. Elementary particles are billions of times smaller than even a Hydrogen Atom. Elements are not in the picture there.

Virtual particles are the result of how quantum fields present themselves. Really it is probably most accurate to say virtual particles are just made of math. They are a model that accurately describes the subatomic world but you can never directly measure them.

Part of what’s so confusing here is that it’s hard to explain what a “particle” even is anymore. We describe things like electrons and quarks as disturbances in a “field”, kind of like waves on the ocean. We often describe these waves in terms of a sum of “fundamental” waves, and a particle is one of these smallest possible waves in the field.

In some sense, a particle is “made of” the field, in the same way that a wave is made of the ocean. Virtual particles are also made of the field in the same way, and anti-particles are just a different kind of wave on the same field.

What makes virtual particles different is that they don’t have to obey the same rules of conservation of energy as regular particles do. They can pop into and out of existence along with anti-particle partners, just so long as the violation of conservation of energy is short enough in time.

We’re dealing with stuff smaller than atoms at this point so they’re not made of any elements.

You probably know that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. 3 particles that make up everything would be nice but alas it is not that simple.

In the 20th century we started discovering loads of new subatomic particles, pions, kaons, lambda particles, all sorts. Hundreds of different varieties. Thankfully we were once again able to discover an underlying set of ingredients that they were all made of.

The Standard Model as it is called contains all the particles of matter that we believe to be fundamental: 6 quarks and 6 leptons. It also contains particles for 3 of the 4 fundamental forces (not gravity) and the higgs boson. Everything is made out of these ingredients.

The Standard model is great but sadly is incomplete (no explainationsfor for gravity or things like dark matter) and gives no insight into *why* these particular particles are fundamental.

*note: I refer to particles but really I should probably refer to quantum fields and their excitations. Particles are easier to understand but the idea of virtual particles is better understood by quantum fields.