I think the title about says it all.

If someone asks me "What good is the Theory of General Relativity?" (or what did Einstein do that was so great, or whatever) My pat answer is, "You use GPS right? Well, GPS requires knowing the location (in time and space) of GPS satellites to an astonishing precision. The only way to obtain that precision is through an understanding of General Relativity.

Or, "What's this Bose-Einstein Condensate good for?" I will answer, that it enables extraordinarily precise measurements of the earth's gravitational field. 10 years ago, this was actively being tested as a new means of navigating submarines. (There's a lot of background as to why that's important that I go into, but presumably most readers here understand those reasons.)

So, how does one answer the question, "What good is knowing about these quark things anyway? Does any technology depend upon them?"

ps. While writing up this question, and double checking that it wasn't a duplicate, I saw this question: Why does GPS depend on relativity? which implies my assertion about GPS may be wrong. But, if nothing else, it demonstrates that the impact of General Relativity can be measured using devices/systems that are "known" to most people.

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    $\begingroup$ not an answer, but it strike me that there was over 60 year between GR and GPS and I think aboout 80 between BEC and you sub research. if we assume 60 years for quarks to have a use IO think this gives us a date of 2024ish for that use to be developed. so not long :) $\endgroup$
    – jk.
    Apr 27, 2018 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose that you don't have to understand quarks to operate the LHC, but you sure need to understand them to understand what the result of doing so is. $\endgroup$
    – Beanluc
    Apr 27, 2018 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @jk that's a very insightful comment, and helps put this question into a proper context. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 28, 2018 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ Some technologies of producing physics PhDs rely on a detailed understanding of the quark model. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2018 at 14:55

3 Answers 3


Is there any current technology that depends upon a deep understanding of quarks?

No, there isn't. There are technologies that depend in various ways upon nuclear physics and knowledge of nuclear forces. However, those technologies predate the quark model. If the quark model had never been discovered, it would have had no effect on nuclear power, nuclear weapons, MRI, radiation therapy, biological use of radioactive tracers, radioactive dating, or any other application I can think of. Every application on that list predates the quark model, at least in principle. (E.g., NMR is the only nuclear physics principle used in MRI.)

Of course, it's hard to prove a negative. I'm a nuclear physicist by training, but that's no guarantee that I'm not missing a counterexample.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any nuclear technology where you have to worry about strange particles, perhaps as a background? $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2018 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ @MitchellPorter: I assume the OP means practical or useful technologies, in which case I can't think of anything involving strangeness. $\endgroup$
    – user4552
    Apr 27, 2018 at 17:13

I cannot think of any technology which exploits in any way the properties of quarks directly, however nuclear processes ultimately depend on the existence of quarks. So indirectly, nuclear power, radioactive dating, NMR all involve in a way the existence of quarks. The existence of stars and nuclear bombs are perhaps the most striking examples of the implications of the existence of quarks.

Another example of the is air showers, where a high energy cosmic ray strikes the nucleus of an atom in the upper atmosphere, creating a chain reaction which produces a shower of hadrons (bound quarks) and various other particles. One use of this is muon tomography, where the resulting muons are used to image the interiors of large objects. For example, it was used to discover a hidden chamber inside the Great Pyramid. Again, it's not a direct use of quarks, but as with anything involving the nuclei of atoms, it is only possible due to their existence.

The issue of course is quark confinement. Quarks cannot exist freely except at extremely high energies/temperatures such as those achieved for fractions of a second in the LHC. or in the very earliest times in the universe. Even in the core of a star the quarks are not free. Though there is the hypothetical quark star, which would be denser even than neutron stars, and could potentially be formed at the core of neutrons stars.

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    $\begingroup$ I suppose the question can be restated as: assuming the proton and neutron are irreducible, can we develop nuclear technology as well as we have thus far? And I think the answer is yes with the exception of high energy physics measurement instrumentation (which I don't think matches the spirit of the question). $\endgroup$
    – Ian
    Apr 27, 2018 at 16:51

Well, many details of cutting edge particle detectors at SLAC, Fermilab, and the LHC depend on details of the quark interactions. (In the sense that, if we already knew the interiors of nucleii were different from the quark model, we would make detectors generally optimized for the dynamics we expect.) Of course, this answer is defensibly circular, given the "What is ... good for" context.


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