How matter’s hidden complexity unleashed the power of nuclear physics

Matter is a lush tapestry, woven from a complex assortment of threads. Diverse subatomic particles weave together to fabricate the universe we inhabit. But a century ago, people believed that matter was so simple that it could be constructed with just two types of subatomic fibers — electrons and protons. That vision of matter was a no-nonsense plaid instead of an ornate brocade.

Physicists of the 1920s thought they had a solid grasp on what made up matter. They knew that atoms contained electrons surrounding a positively charged nucleus. And they knew that each nucleus contained a number of protons, positively charged particles identified in 1919. Combinations of those

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