Quarking back to happiness

When scientists claimed this week that they may have discovered a new force of nature, I was hoping that they'd found some old footage of a live concert of mine. Alas, this was not to be; in reality, their excitement was provoked by the magnificently named 'beauty quark' and its mysterious antics. One of the boffins involved in the investigations was clearly beside himself with glee as he spoke to someone from BBC News: "We were actually shaking when we first looked at the results, we were that excited. Our hearts did beat a bit faster." It's unclear whether or not he has a girlfriend.

I did read up on events on the French Swiss border where the Hadron Collider is sited and where all of the excitement has been taking place but, what with my capacity to grasp scientific concepts being pitiful at best, once smoke began to billow freely from my ears, I pretty much gave up trying to understand. Fear not though, I think I got the gist before my head exploded. Here goes.

First, scientists, by their own admission, don't know what ninety-five per cent of the universe is made from while something known as The Standard Model is their best effort thus far at attempting to explain it all. If my maths is correct, then, The Standard Model covers about five per cent of stuff, but not dark matter, the nature of gravity or how Bjork managed to sell so many records.

According to The Standard Model, the beauty quark, when it decays, should break down into equal numbers of electron and muon (don't ask) particles but - tachaan!! - it doesn't. The process actually produces more electrons than muons which is mind blowing, apparently. According to a man in wire-rimmed spectacles rubbing his chin while standing next to a Bunsen burner, one possible explanation for this is that a leptoquark (no, really) might be involved in all this decay shenanigans and that possibility is really significant because the leptoquark hasn't been discovered yet but if it is, it will increase our understanding of absolutely everything, except why so many people like eating sushi.

Depending on your perspective, then, the human race has either come a mighty long way in a relatively short space of time, or we continue to have little clue about anything. To tell the truth, it sometimes feels to me like we don't understand much more than we did when Shakespeare gave one of his best lines to Hamlet over four hundred years ago: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

And Bjork hadn't even made a record back then.