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No. 15: Spring 1981

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Those Darn Quarks

There's no escaping it, those fractionally charged niobium balls just can't be swept under the rug. In fact, more recent experiments have served only to accentuate the anomaly. Researchers at Stanford University have been magnetically suspending superconducting niobium spheres in a modern version of Millikan's oil-drop experiment. With the niobium spheres thus suspended, their net electrical charges can be measured. The trouble is that several of the spheres have fractional electrical charges -- +1/3 or -1/3 electronic charges.

For decades the charge on the electron was supposed to be the basic, indivisible natural unit of electrical charge. In 1964, however, theorists began muddying the waters with talk of new fundamental constituents of matter called quarks, which could possess 1/3 or 2/3 electron charges. No one really expected that quarks, if they existed at all, would be floating around free. But the niobium balls tell us that not only are quarks free but that we could have detected them with relatively simple experiments decades ago if we had not been so blinded by the idea of integral electronic charges.

(Robinson, Arthur L.; "Evidence for Free Quarks Won't Go Away," Science, 211:1028, 1981.)

From Science Frontiers #15, Spring 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987