The Standard Model is a well-known theory in
physics that scientists think is (mostly)
correct. According to the Standard Model,
protons (and neutrons) are made up of quarks.
Also according to the Standard Model, quarks
(and electrons) are elementary particles, so they
cannot be broken down further. Compared to a
lot of other major theories in science, the
Standard Model is quite new: scientists only
really settled on the current version in the
1970s. Plus, like any theory in science, there's
no guarantee that it's always correct. Still, most
scientists--including me--believe that the
Standard Model is "correct enough" to be useful.
So far, all of the experiments in the world make
sense under the Standard Model, so we often talk
about it like it is fact.
But the Standard Model just one theory. Many
physicists are working on theories that go beyond
the Standard Model, and many of these theories say
that quarks can be broken down. For example, the
most famous theory that goes beyond the
Standard Model is string theory. According to
string theory, all of the elementary particles,
including quarks and electrons, are made up of
small objects called strings. This theory is
really complicated and physicists are always
thinking of new ways to improve it. So far, most
scientists have not accepted any of these Beyond
Standard Model theories as "correct": they need to
be tested and improved more.
So far as we know, quarks and electrons are not
themselves made up of smaller particles. However,
that doesn't really mean that even protons (and
neutrons) can be broken down, because these
particles are made of energy, and the amount of
energy you would need to make the quarks free from
each-other is greater than the amount of energy
needed to create new quarks, so if you hit a
proton hard enough to break the quarks loose, you
would just get more quarks to make mesons
and things (a meson contains two quarks).
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