Virtual Particles

     Virtual particles are all around us at all times.... If you look very closely, you can see their effects on a black background as they collide with the phosporescent lining of your computer screen. The collision releases energy which resolves itself into the form of star-like bursts of color randomly contrasting with the black background. Virtual particles also contribute to a steady increase in the earth's mass by continually precipitating to the ground as miniscule lithoformic granules. In the words of an expert renowned in her house-keeping field who encounters this phenomenon daily, "they're just dust spots, really" (Connie Brown, interview). For further information on the lithoformic virtual particles, visit the home of the Vacuum, the University of Suction at USUCK.COM.
Note: the aforementioned paragraph has no basis in actual physics nor does "THE MOCK JOURNAL OF UNTRUE PHYSICS" exist as to my knowledge. I just made this all up because it's funny.

      The preceding paragraph was taken from a mock-science journal known as "THE MOCK SCIENCE JOURNAL OF UNTRUE PHYSICS" and as such is totally untrue. Virtual particles are indeed a "real" phenomenon, though they do not precipitate as dust nor do they increase the mass of the universe. Virtual particles are an omnipresent, seemingly random phenomenon that upon first glance appears to violate the laws of Conservation of Energy.

Electron: the electron is a negatively charged subatomic particle with a miniscule mass. It orbits the positively charged nucleus and is responsible for atomic bonding.

Positron: the positron is the antiparticle of the electron and exhibits an equal but opposite charge.

Photon: the photon is an electromagnetic wave and is the smallest unit of light. It is through the photons that electromagnetic energy is transfered since that is what photons are.

these are basically undectable omnipresent versions of the aforementioned particles which have fun little uses. They are a lot like the number i which, although it doesn't physically exist, has many physical applications.

      The dimensions of space and time are inextricably linked in a field named "spacetime." Spacetime is the very fabric of the universe, and it is in spacetime that we exist. All of spacetime is overlaid by electron-positron fields that are essentially electromagnetic in nature. (The positron is the antiparticle of the electron and is positively charged.) It is possible for photons (the smallest constituent part of a light wave) to interact with and transfer its energy to an electron-positron field. When this happens, an electron and a positron are created from the field. These are real particles, and not virtual. Occasionally, however, particles can create themselves out of an electron-positron field without the energy from a photon to convert into mass. Ideally, due to the Law of Conservation of energy, this could not happen. However, due to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle the energy of a system can become uncertain thus making it possible for these particles to exist for a limited amount of time. The lifespan of a virtual particle is on the order of 10-43 second and decreases as the non- existant energy used to create the particle and its antiparticle increases. Virtual particles, unlike their real counterparts, are undectable and do not interfere with the physical world. The proof of their existance lies in that they affect probabilities of scattering processes by offering alternate pathways for the scattering, and so their presence can be observed by comparing computed probabilities to the actual results.

Below you can see an illustration of the life and times of an anonymous virtual particle pair.

Thanks to the University of Oregon for the gifs.

     In addition to virtual electrons and virtual positrons, there are also virtual photons, though their functions are a little bit different. Richard P. Feynman developed the theory of virtual photons in the 1940's to explain the effects of electromagnetic fields. It is an untidy convention of physics to have field forces which act upon an object from a distance whereas contact forces which transfer energy through physical contact are much more palatable. According to Feynman, when charged particles approach one another, they emit virtual photons which carry momentum from one particle to the other. Thus, the electromagnetic field forces are the result not of mysterious non-touching field forces, but of "physical" contact forces. This explanation gets a little complicated when talking about attractive field forces, however. If electromagnetic force is caused simply by virual photons knocking things about, how can there be attractive forces? According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, a definite momentum can be exchanged by the virtual photons, but there is an incredibly large uncertainty as to the position of the momentum when it is exchanged. In fact, the uncertainty is so large that it fills basically all of space. Thus, the momentum can be transferred regardless of the distance of the particles (hence electromagnetic lines extended outward infinitely), and if it happens to point toward the transmitting particle, then the force is attractive. Some really cool wave functions dealing with the probability of encounters by the virtual photons can be used to decide whether they will cause two charges to move toward or away from each other. To see the explanation, go here.

The Philosophy of Virtual Paricles! Unfounded Conclusions!

return to the main page go to the thoughts page
go to the links page go to the Arthurian page
go to the dragon page go to the Arthurian people and Footnotes page
go to the Latin page go to the Spanish page
go to the quotes page go to the book list page
go to the novella page go to the First Oration Against Fate
go to the physics page go to the short story page
go to the valedictory page go the JCL page
go to the college books page go to the quotes from Greek class page
go to the quotes from Latin class page