What is a Quark anyway?

Originally published in June 2013, this blog was transferred over from the now defunct ‘quantumwebcafe.com’ site before it’s closure in 2019. The cafes were originally called ‘Quarks’ but were later rebranded to ‘Quantum’ when the name was sold with the Guildford branch in 2014.

One of the things we are asked most is where our name came from. The formal definitions and history are shown below, but the idea was that since a quark is compenent of all matter, it’s a quantum version of what we represent in the real world. In other words, we, as a physical premises, are a gateway to the rest of the world via the internet. We are a mere component of something far greater. Deep isn’t it? There’s that and the fact we thought it was really snazzy sounding.

Here’s the formal definition:

Quarks (n) (pron: kwork, kwark) Any of a gorup of six elementary particles having electric charges of a magnitude one-third or two-thirds that of the electron, regarded as constituents of all hadrons. That clears that up then.

Quark (n) A soft creamy acid cured cheese of central Europe made from whole milk. Sounds lovely.

Quark (Prop. n) Barkeep in Deep Space 9. Y’know, the guy with the big ears.

Quarks (Prop. n) The UK’s longest continuously running chain of internet cafes in the UK. Established in early 1996, Quarks had three branches in Guildford, Reading and Richmond.

This is all very interesting, but where did the actual word ‘quarks’ come from?

“Three quarks for Muster Mark!/ Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark!/ And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.”

This passage from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, part of a scurrilous 13 line poem directed against King Mark, the cuckolded husband in the Tristan legend, has left its mark on modern physics.

The poem and the accompanying prose are packed with names of birds and words suggestive of birds, and the poem is a squawk against the king that suggests the cawing of a crow. The word quark comes from the standard English verb quark, meaning “to caw, croak”, and also from the dialectal verb quawk, meaning “to caw, screech like a bird”. Whilst this is interesting, how did it make the leap to become the name for a group of hypothetical (at the time) subatomic particles proposed as the fundamental units of matter?

Murray Gell-Mann, the physicist who proposed the name, said in a private letter of June 27th, 1978 to the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary that he had been influenced by Joyce’s words. As he put it “The allusion to three quarks seemed perfect”. It should be noted at the time that it was generally accepted there were only three types of subatomic quarks. Now, of course, there are known to be more, and a host of anti-quarks to boot.

But we’re lay people when it comes to the detail of this. If you have the brain capacity, Wikipedia has this to say about quarks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarks

Read and enjoy!

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