Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Can you see or accurately visualise sub atomic particles or are they known only by maths and/or inference?

share|cite|improve this question
What is your definition of visualize? If we draw something using mathematical equations, isn't it a visual representation? Do you want to see it under light? Mind it, whatever techniques we use to visualize subatomic particles do actually use mathematical equations to draw something on computer. – Evil Angel Dec 7 '12 at 4:17
up vote 3 down vote accepted

You can see a nucleus and the nucleus of a hydrogen atom is a proton which is the same. You can't see below that at least with a source of neutrons that ISIS produce, but you can see down to the level of the proton.

share|cite|improve this answer
The limit at ISIS is basically set by the beam energies and the strong nature of the neutron--nucleon interaction, higher energy facilities can problem finer distance scales. – dmckee Dec 7 '12 at 3:34

We can image the sub-structure of nucleons by a number of different techniques involving high energy scattering. The results are generally presented in terms of "parton distribution functions" or "structure functions".

One such experiment that I had some small relationship with (though not enough to be an author) was NuSea (E866) at Fermilab in the mid 1990s, which used muon Drell-Yan as the a probe to image the QCD sea in particular.

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.