I am not a physicist, but I have a somewhat philosophical question regarding particle physics.

In chemistry, and biology, there is a notion of synthesis, which has led to the creation of novel molecules and organisms (i.e., ones that did not exist ``naturally'') by the discovery of clever pathways and genetic sequences.

My question is this: is it possible to do this in physics? For example, does the notion of an engineered particle or field make any sense? Note that I don't mean the creation of an instance of an already known or existing but unknown particle, but rather, the creation of a new type of particle that is known NOT to exist naturally.

If the answer is "yes," then I'd like some discussion of theoretical efforts and barriers in that direction. If the answer is a "no," then I'd like a discussion of how that argument can be made and what it relies on, fundamentally.

If the answer is "we don't know yet," then I'd like a discussion of the reason for this uncertainty, and what makes it plausible or implausible.

Thank you.

Update: Nuclear-powered submarines capable of shooting long range ballistic missiles don't occur naturally. They are designed and built from specific functional requirements and disparate raw materials, by human beings. Likewise, my question is this: suppose I specify some requirements for a particle's properties, then is it possible to design and "build" it? Or even this: could we change the property of an existing particle to an unnatural value? I think this must be possible given that particles are just fields. I know this is far fetched, could require humongous energies etc., and is somewhat of a philosophical question, but I'd like to know what, in principle, prevents it.

Or, are particles like integers: there are many of them, and it doesn't make sense to say "we made a new integer that did not exist before"?

  • $\begingroup$ We can make isotopes which do not occur naturally (in measurable quantities). That doesn't mean they are "engineered". It only means that the processes that "make" them do not happen very often in nature. All elementary particles are naturally occurring, it's just not possible to detect them at the rates at which they are being produced by natural radiation sources. An accelerator is simply a facility which gives us control over the production process, so that we have an actual chance of detecting a natural phenomenon. $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Oct 18 '14 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I do understand synthesis in chemistry where novel molecules or isotopes are made. And I do understand that particles occur naturally (we're being hit with them all the time, etc.). My question is whether it is even coherent and sound to ask: can we engineer a new type of particle? Here, I mean that we might list some functional properties of such a particle -- for example, it's mass, charge, interaction with other particles etc. and then figure out a process by which we can obtain such a particle. $\endgroup$ – Swapnil Bhatia Oct 18 '14 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ Engineering is the cost optimized use of natural phenomena for a human purpose. What's the difference between a mountain and a dam for the water that's trapped behind either? Nothing. But when we want to trap water, we don't move a mountain, but we calculate the minimum amount of material that satisfies the purpose (hopefully safely). This is really no different. If we want to detect these naturally occurring particles, we have to make a machine that can produce enough of them in a controlled environment where we can detect and distinguish them. $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Oct 18 '14 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks again. Nuclear-powered submarines capable of shooting long range ballistic missiles don't occur naturally. They are designed and built from disparate raw materials by human beings. Likewise, my question is this: suppose I specify some requirements for particle properties, then is it possible to design and "build" it? Yes, I know it sounds totally impossible/inconceivable, but that is my question: what is the argument for this, if it is indeed so? $\endgroup$ – Swapnil Bhatia Oct 19 '14 at 16:15

It really depends on the meaning of "new".

  • If "new" means a particle which exists in nature, but was so far unknown (think like the gas helium, it did exist before his discovery), then yes.

  • If "new" means something which is theoretically possible, but not found under normal conditions in nature, then yes.

  • If "new" means something engineered which could never have existed before, then (at least for the current knowledge) no.

Chemistry and heavy ion experimenting was able to create superheavy elements, elements which do not exist in nature because they are unstable. It could be that they have been once created in supernova explosions, but if they did, they cracked down in stable elements.

Graphene, nanotubes and fullerene are completely unknown forms of carbon. At least we know now that fullerenes can be produced in flames, but noone have found them before. There are many, many known organic and anorganic substances which cannot be found in nature.

Suprafluid helium is a form of helium which seems to have no friction and it only occurs at extremely low temperatures. The space is much too warm to form this substance.

An interesting case is polymorphism. It is known that e.g. carbon can exist in graphite, diamond and now fullerenes etc. For some unknown reason organic substances like paroxetine may occur in different molecule configurations despite being the same material. These configurations look like they can spontanously appear and disappear and can force other configurations to transform in their configuration.

The creation of elementary particles itself which have not been produced by nature before is on the other hand not likely. Nature uses extremely much energy to produce power for particles we cannot hope to achieve, the strongest one known is 1 000 000 000 more powerful than what the LHC can produce.

The current assumption is that the universe has relatively constant known forces and first principles, that these did not change over time and that they cannot be influenced. The idea that the "fabric of reality" does change or can be even influenced by human activity so really completely new stuff comes out of it...let's say it's considered extremely hard stuff to believe.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for considering my question. Indeed, I followed the same line of thought and also think it is difficult to conceive of this, but I can't think of an argument to rule it out. Yes, perhaps the energies needed are large, but is it still, in principle, possible? $\endgroup$ – Swapnil Bhatia Oct 19 '14 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ The question really is: How would you find out if it is "new" ? New per definition means "not encountered before" so there is noone you can ask. If something pops up which has never been encountered before, are natural laws responsible (we could have made an error in our models or predictions) or it is something which said:"Now let's something new". There is no way telling the difference. For creating new particles outside the bounds of natural processes we would really need a Type II civilization. $\endgroup$ – Thorsten S. Oct 19 '14 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ So are you saying that a new particle is not possible, because it would be something outside what is predicted by the standard model? $\endgroup$ – Swapnil Bhatia Oct 20 '14 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ If it is outside the predictions of the standard model, it will be supersymmetyr, or strings or prions or what not. Engineering something new means you have nailed down the theory. Particle physics research is a continued frontier. If for example we find Prions or compositeness of some form ( which all data up to now say not possible) then maybe once the theory is known one could engineer a different "proton". Not where we are now or can imagine we will be in the future though. $\endgroup$ – anna v Nov 7 '14 at 15:06

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