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Women and People of Color in Science

Contributions to the sciences by specific groups and challenges that they have faced.

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Quark Hunting

Quark Hunting

Credit: Steve Hillebrand
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_heavy_equipment_operator.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This woman is a construction worker, but she might be a scientist too. Driving big construction equipment to set up experiments is one of the fun things that scientist Melissa Franklin has enjoyed about her research. She must be studying something really big, right? Actually, she researches the tiniest bits of matter in the universe.

Why It Matters

  • Everything in the universe is made of atoms. Atoms are made of still smaller particles, known as fundamental particles.
  • Finding, measuring, and understanding fundamental particles helps us understand everything else in the universe. That’s why physicist Melissa Franklin is so excited about her research. She’s on a quest to learn more about fundamental particles. She’s already played an important role in the hunt for the top quark.
  • Quarks are the tiny particles that make up the protons and neutrons in atoms. Scientists think that back when the universe first formed, there were six types of quarks.
  • Credit: Robert Lopez
    Source: CK-12 Foundation
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    This proton has two up quarks and one down quark [Figure2]

  • Only two types-up and down quarks-still exist naturally in the universe. Until 1995, only five of the six types of quarks had been discovered. For years, Melissa Franklin and teams of hundreds of other scientists looked for the sixth quark, called the top quark. They finally found it in 1995.
  • Watch the video and read the short essay at this link to learn more about Melissa Franklin and the hunt for the top quark: 

What Do You Think?

Based on the video and essay above and the links below, learn more about Melissa Franklin and quark hunting. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What is a particle accelerator and how does it produce fundamental particles of matter?
  2. How do Melissa Franklin and other particle physicists study the particles produced by the particle accelerator?
  3. How is a particle detector like a microscope?
  4. What role did Melissa Franklin play in creating the particle detector at Fermi Lab near Chicago?
  5. Melissa Franklin has been a role model for other women in physics. Explain why.
  6. How was the hunt for the top quark a good example of the nature of science?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Steve Hillebrand; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_heavy_equipment_operator.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Robert Lopez; Source: CK-12 Foundation; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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