Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Matter and Energy
Name: Unknown
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1993

In nuclear physics, I have read that under some circumstances in a particle accelerator matter will change to energy and then back to matter in a matter of a few feet. Could you tell me how and why this happens?

Actually, modern physics theories have matter appearing and disappearing all the time, and if it is fast enough they do not even have to conserve energy (according to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle). Matter is always created as particle- antiparticle pairs, however, due to other conservation laws - for example electrons and positrons get created together. In particle accelerators the idea is to bring protons or electrons to very high energies. Then these high energy particles are smashed into one another or into fixed targets, and all sorts of stuff can happen. The interesting thing is when new particles are created - in particular if the energies are right, the heavy quarks can be created (together with their anti quark pairs). Since they are unstable, they decay within a very short time (and most likely, having high energies themselves, after having traveled some distance, perhaps measured in feet). And the decay releases more particles with high energy. Actually I should probably clarify. "Energy" does not exist except as a property of matter (if you include all particles, including the photons that carry light, as matter). Since some particles are unstable, they can decay and release energy, but that energy is then owned by the decay products.

A. Smith

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory