Magazine article Science News

Not-So-Neutral Neutron: Clearer View of Neutron Reveals Charged Locales

Magazine article Science News

Not-So-Neutral Neutron: Clearer View of Neutron Reveals Charged Locales

Article excerpt

Textbooks say the neutron has no electric charge, but physicists have long suspected that the particle is a more complicated beast. A new accelerator study is helping physicists see clearly an aspect of neutron structure they could only guess at before: Neutrons may be electrically neutral overall but charged at different locations within their tiny volumes.

The new data from the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Va., reveal a slight positive charge at the neutron's center and a slight negative charge at its surface.

Those findings may help scientists better understand matter on scales that are both smaller and larger than neutrons themselves, says theorist Franz Gross of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and the Jefferson lab. For example, the data may shed light on the locations and interactions of quarks, the smaller, fundamental constituents of neutrons and protons. They also may provide insights into how neutrons and protons, which are collectively known as nucleons, arrange themselves to form atomic nuclei, Gross says.

Andrei Yu Semenov of Kent State University in Ohio and a member of the Jefferson experimental team presented the new neutron data last week in Albuquerque at a joint meeting of the American Physical Society and the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society.

For decades, physicists have investigated nucleon structures by firing electrons at them (SN: 8/27/94, p.140). From the way the electrons scatter off the particles, it's been possible to infer the locations and strengths of the electric charges and magnetic fields of the nucleons. …

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