It is natural to group the eight lightest mesons into 4 irreps of isospin as follows:

mesons |
I_{3} |
Y |
Q |

pions |
|||

(complexified adjoint rep) | |||

+1 | 0 | +1 | |

0 | 0 | 0 | |

-1 | 0 | -1 | |

kaons |
|||

(defining rep) | |||

+1/2 | 1 | +1 | |

-1/2 | 1 | 0 | |

antikaons |
|||

(dual of defining rep) | |||

+1/2 | -1 | 0 | |

-1/2 | -1 | -1 | |

eta |
|||

(trivial rep) | |||

0 | 0 | 0 |

(The dual of the defining rep of is
isomorphic to the defining rep, but it's always nice to think of
antiparticles as living in the *dual* of the rep that the
corresponding particles live in, so above I have said that
the antikaons live in the dual of the defining rep.)

In his theory called
the **Eightfold Way**, Gell-Mann showed that these eight
mesons could be thought of as a basis for the
the complexified adjoint rep of -- that is,
its rep on the 8-dimensional complex Hilbert space

He took seriously the fact that

where is the defining rep of and is its dual. Thus, he postulated particles called

and

This let him think of the eight mesons as being built from quarks and antiquarks. For example, the positive pion corresponds to the matrix

but as an element of this is just

so he said the positive pion is built from an up quark and an down antiquark! After decades of experiment, we now have lots of evidence that quarks really exist and that this is true.

1. Determine in a similar way how the other mesons are built from quarks and antiquarks, and fill in this chart:

2. In the Eightfold Way, whenever we have particles living
in some rep of , the third component of weak
isospin corresponds to the operator

while hypercharge corresponds to the operator

As usual, electric charge corresponds to the operator

By calculating how the above operators act on the standard basis of the defining rep, fill out the following table of eigenvalues:

quarks |
I_{3} |
Y |
Q |

3. Figure out the same information for the antiquarks:

antiquarks |
I_{3} |
Y |
Q |

*Hint: Unlike for ,
the defining representation of is not isomorphic
to its dual. So, you should go back to the formula for the
dual of a Lie algebra rep. If we have a rep of some Lie
group
*

4. By filling out the following chart, check that you can compute , or for any meson simply by adding these quantities for the quarks and antiquarks it is built from. For example, the is built from a and a . The has and the also has ; adding these we get for the .

mesons | quark-antiquark descriptions |
I_{3} |
Y |
Q |

pions |
||||

kaons |
||||

antikaons |
||||

eta |
||||

In terms of the mathematics of representation theory, why should we be able to compute , or for mesons as a sum of this sort?

If we had more time, we would now go on to
explain the baryons -- like the proton and neutron, but also
other particles -- in terms of quarks. Then we would explain how
the Eightfold Way was eventually incorporated into the Standard Model,
in which quarks are held
together by the `strong force' to form mesons and baryons. Ironically,
while the strong force is described by a theory with symmetry group ,
this symmetry group has *nothing to do* with Gell-Mann's
symmetry! Gell-Mann's
is now seen to be just an *approximate*
symmetry coming from the fact that the up, down and strange quarks all
act roughly the same, though they have different masses and charges.
The symmetry of the strong force
describes how quarks of any sort come in three
`colors'.

But alas, summer is fast approaching, and there is no time to continue our adventure into particle physics. If you want to learn more, try reading these books, in approximately increasing order of difficulty and detail:

- Robert P. Crease and Charles C. Mann,
*The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century*, Physics, MacMillan, New York, 1986. - Emilio Segre,
*From X-Rays to Quarks: Modern Physicists and Their Discoveries*, W. H. Freeman, San Francisco, 1980. - Abraham Pais,
*Inward Bound: of Matter and Forces in the Physical World*, Clarendon Press, New York, 1986. - T. D. Lee,
*Particle Physics and Introduction to Field Theory*, Harwood, New York, 1981. - Kerson Huang,
*Quarks, Leptons & Gauge Fields*, World Scientific, Singapore, 1982.

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© 2003 John Baez - all rights reserved.

baez@math.removethis.ucr.andthis.edu