Thursday, February 05, 2009

Beanie Bosons

I found my Higgs boson! He was behind the couch the whole time.

No not the theorized subatomic particle that gives matter its mass, the gray plush toy from Particle Zoo.

This little guy is adorable, and he's got a whole menagerie of brother and sister particles. The whole gang's there, everyone from the regulars like electrons, neutrons and protons, exotics like neutrinos and positrons, and even theoreticals and hypotheticals like gravitons, tachyons and my own little Higgs boson. Every particle (and anti-particle) from the standard model of physics is available and adorable.

Julie Peasley started making her line of plush particles in 2007. After attending a lecture at UCLA, inspiration hit and she started her line of subatomic stuffed toys. She makes all of them by hand in her Las Angeles studio.

Peasley has really put a lot of care in to making each plushie. The best part is how each little guy gives a good idea of what small particles are like. Every plushie comes with a tag that gives a rundown of each. The heavy Higgs boson is filled with gravel for extra heft, while the massless photon weighs next to nothing. At 11 cm long, the little photon is the same size as the wavelength of a microwave. I call mine "Mike."

You can get really creative with these guys. On the one hand they make great visual aides when trying to figure out the strange world of subatomic particles. It's the best way I've found to keep a gluon and a muon straight. And you can have a lot of fun with them too. You can build your own whole plushie elements. Put an electron around a proton and you have an atom of hydrogen. Add a neutron and BAM: Deuterium! Add another 91 protons and electrons and an extra 145 neutrons there’s the worlds largest uranium-238 atom.

These little guys also make for great gifts. Neutrinos are nearly massless particles that travel through matter, but barely ineract with any of it. For this reason, scientists have had a devil of a time trying to pin any down, even though trillions pass through the average person's body every second. Now, scientists can interact with neutrinos as much as they'd like by giving them a hug.

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