What are Particles?


Until the 1900s, atomic elements were considered to be fundamental. In 1911, the understanding of the atomic nucleus changed when Ernest Rutherford demonstrated the atom had a heavy nucleus. Following his discovery of the atomic nucleus structure, Antonius van den Broek proposed that the atomic number in the Periodic Table of Elements was the nuclear charge of the element. Then, in 1913, Henry Moseley found a linear function between the atomic number and a measurable property of the atom’s nucleus. These events provided the foundation of a predictable sequence and a logical theory of the atomic nucleus. Now, it is commonly accepted that the proton is the fundamental particle that creates each of the atomic elements in the table. For example, hydrogen has one proton, helium has two protons, lithium has three, etc.

With the introduction of particle accelerators in the second half of the 1900s, roughly 200 unique particles have been discovered. Although they are unique, these particles can be further broken down into smaller components, known as elementary particles. Today, there is believed to be 17 elementary particles in the Standard Model.   

Standard Model

Standard Model of Elementary Particles


While matter can broken down into parts that all trace to atoms consisting of different arrangements of protons, subdividing the components of the atom seem to become more complex again. Why would nature do this? Become simpler as we shrink from matter to atoms, just to be complex again as it continues to get smaller?  To summarize our understanding today…

Atomic Elements

  • 118 atomic elements in the Periodic Table – for all of matter.
  • 1 fundamental particle (proton) is the basis of all atomic elements.

Subatomic Particles

  • ~200 unique particles have been found in neutrino detectors, particle accelerators and other experiments.
  • 17 elementary particles in the Standard Model are the basis of all the discovered particles.





Until there was an understanding of the proton’s role in the atomic nucleus, the various atomic elements that had been discovered in the 1800s were thought to be unique. In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev formed the first version of the Periodic Table of Elements that began the relationship between atomic number (proton count) and the mass of atomic elements. Yet it still took until the early 1900s before the proton was discovered and the relationship of the proton to each element became clear.

Fast forward to today, the discovery of new particles is analogous to the period in the 1800s when new atomic elements were being discovered. We believe that there are 17 elementary particles that create the ~200 particles that have been found thus far. Instead, we should look at history and realize that nature is simpler and that there may be a fundamental particle that creates all others.

The data shown earlier in the Particles section of this site shows a linear relationship between particle count and particle mass (energy). This is identical to the process for the Periodic Table of Elements. The reason it is not as simple to find the linear relationship is that the particle count is to the fifth power, but this is explained when understanding how waves are formed and the Longitudinal Energy Equation is derived. The relationship is as follows…

Particle energies - linear function

Linear Relationship of Particle Number to Particle Energy
Source: The Relation of Particle Sequence to Atomic Sequence


The relationship requires an assumption for a fundamental particle that has a baseline rest energy of 2.39eV.  This is equivalent to assuming that the proton has a baseline rest energy for determining atomic elements. Which known particle is near this energy value? The smallest and lightest known particle today could be the fundamental particle… the neutrino.



Video – What are Particles?

The What are Particles video below provides a history of the discovery of atomic elements, particles and the relationship between the two.