GRE Reading Comprehension
We can distinguish three different realms of matter, three levels on the quantum ladder. The first is the atomic realm, which includes the world of atoms, their interactions, and the structures that are formed by them, such as molecules, liquids and solids, and gases and plasmas. This realm includes all the phenomena of atomic physics, chemistry, and, in a certain sense, biology. The energy exchanges taking place in this realm are of a relatively low order. If these exchanges are below one electron volt, such as in the collisions between molecules of the air in a room, then atoms and molecules can be regarded as elementary particles. That is, they have "conditional elementarity" because they keep their identity and do not change in any collisions or in other processes at these low energy exchanges. If one goes to higher energy exchanges, say 10,000 electron volts, then atoms and molecules will decompose into nuclei and electrons; at this level, the latter particles must be considered as elementary. We find examples of structures and processes of this first rung of the quantum ladder on Earth, on planets, and on the surfaces of stars.
The next rung is the nuclear realm. Here the energy exchanges are much higher, on the order of millions of electron volts. As long as we are dealing with phenomena in the atomic realm, such amounts of energy are unavailable, and most nuclei are inert: they do not change. However, if one applies energies of millions of electron volts, nuclear reactions, fission and fusion, and the processes of radioactivity occur; our elementary particles then are protons, neutrons, and electrons. In addition, nuclear processes produce neutrinos, particles that have no detectable mass or charge. In the universe, energies at this level are available in the centers of stars and in star explosions. Indeed, the energy radiated by the stars is produced by nuclear reactions. The natural radioactivity we find on Earth is the long-lived remnant of the time when now-earthly matter was expelled into space by a major stellar explosion.
The third rung of the quantum ladder is the subnuclear realm. Here we are dealing with energy exchangers of many billions of electron volts. We encounter excited nucleons, new types of particles such as mesons, heavy electrons, quarks, and gluons, and also antimatter in large quantities. The gluons are the quanta, or smallest units, of the force (the strong force) that keeps the quarks together. As long as we are dealing with the atomic or nuclear realm, these new types of particles do not occur and the nucleons remain inert. But at subnuclear energy levels, the nucleons and mesons appear to be composed of quarks, so that the quarks and gluons figure as elementary particles.
The primary topic of the passage is which of the following?
- A The interaction of the realms on the quantum ladder
- B Atomic structures found on Earth, on other planets, and on the surfaces of stars
- C Levels of energy that are released in nuclear reactions on Earth and in stars
- D Particles and processes found in the atomic, nuclear, and subnuclear realms
- E New types of particles occurring in the atomic realm
Correct Answer: D