conservation laws

Conservation of Elementary Particle Properties

With the rapid development of the physics of elementary particles during the 1950s, new conservation laws were discovered that have meaning only on this subatomic level. Laws relating to the creation or annihilation of particles belonging to the baryon and lepton classes of particles have been put forward. According to these conservation laws, particles of a given group cannot be created or destroyed except in pairs, where one of the pair is an ordinary particle and the other is an antiparticle belonging to the same group. Recent work has raised the possibility that the proton, which is a type of baryon, may in fact be unstable and decay into lighter products; the postulated methods of decay would violate the conservation of baryon number. To date, however, no such decay has been observed, and it has been determined that the proton has a lifetime of at least 1031 years. Two partial conservation laws, governing the quantities known as strangeness and isotopic spin, have been discovered for elementary particles. Strangeness is conserved during the so-called strong interactions and the electromagnetic interactions, but not during the weak interactions associated with particle decay; isotopic spin is conserved only during the strong interactions.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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