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published by the Annenberg Foundation
content provider: the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
This is Unit 1 of the free digital course "Physics for the 21st Century", aimed at secondary science teachers, high school physics students, and adult learners. Unit 1 explores particle physics, the study of the fundamental constituents of matter. Dramatic discoveries over the past century have changed our view of the structure of matter. This unit details the discoveries of successive subatomic particles and analyzes what each contributed to the Standard Model. The resource offers richly in-depth components: written text in the language of a non-physicist, short video clips and animations, and an interactive web module on discovering neutrino oscillations. A Facilitator's Guide is also provided.

The video series is produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Media Group in association with the Harvard University Department of Physics. It is sponsored by Annenberg Media.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Editor's Note: This comprehensive resource picks up where many high school textbooks leave off:  a meaningful study of modern physics that is pedagogically appropriate for high school physics. We highly recommend it for instructors wishing to integrate modern physics into existing curricula.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Cosmology
= Dark Energy
= Dark Matter
Education Practices
- Curriculum Development
= Course
General Physics
- Curriculum
Modern Physics
- Elementary Particles
- Nuclear Physics
= Particle Detectors
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Course
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Interactive Simulation
= Textbook
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
= Movie/Animation
= Sound
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
DVD versions of the web materials are available for purchase through this website.
© 2010 Annenberg Media
Produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Media Group in association with the Harvard University Department of Physics. Sponsored by Annenberg Media.
ISBN Number:
Standard Model, antimatter, matter, quark, Hadron collider, SLAC, Tevatron, Thomsen, antiquark, baryon, bubble chamber, cloud chamber, dark energy, dark matter, lepton, linear accelerator, meson, muon, neutrino, neutrino detector, particle physics, particle zoo, pion, quark theory, strong force, strong nuclear force
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created December 3, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 19, 2020 by Lyle Barbato

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1A. The Scientific Worldview
  • 9-12: 1A/H1. Science is based on the assumption that the universe is a vast single system in which the basic rules are everywhere the same and that the things and events in the universe occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic study.
  • 9-12: 1A/H2. From time to time, major shifts occur in the scientific view of how things work. More often, however, the changes that take place in the body of scientific knowledge are small modifications of prior knowledge. Continuity and change are persistent features of science.
  • 9-12: 1A/H3bc. In science, the testing, revising, and occasional discarding of theories, new and old, never ends. This ongoing process leads to a better understanding of how things work in the world but not to absolute truth.
1C. The Scientific Enterprise
  • 9-12: 1C/H6ab. Scientists can bring information, insights, and analytical skills to bear on matters of public concern. Acting in their areas of expertise, scientists can help people understand the likely causes of events and estimate their possible effects.

4. The Physical Setting

4A. The Universe
  • 9-12: 4A/H3. Increasingly sophisticated technology is used to learn about the universe. Visual, radio, and X-ray telescopes collect information from across the entire spectrum of electromagnetic waves; computers handle data and complicated computations to interpret them; space probes send back data and materials from remote parts of the solar system; and accelerators give subatomic particles energies that simulate conditions in the stars and in the early history of the universe before stars formed.
4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 9-12: 4D/H5. Scientists continue to investigate atoms and have discovered even smaller constituents of which neutrons and protons are made.
4G. Forces of Nature
  • 9-12: 4G/H2a. Electric forces acting within and between atoms are vastly stronger than the gravitational forces acting between the atoms. At larger scales, gravitational forces accumulate to produce a large and noticeable effect, whereas electric forces tend to cancel each other out.
  • 9-12: 4G/H6. The nuclear forces that hold the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom together are much stronger than the electric forces between the protons and electrons of the atom. That is why much greater amounts of energy are released from nuclear reactions than from chemical reactions.

10. Historical Perspectives

10C. Relating Matter & Energy and Time & Space
  • 9-12: 10C/H3. The special theory of relativity is best known for stating that any form of energy has mass, and that matter itself is a form of energy. Even a tiny amount of matter holds an enormous amount of energy. This relationship is described in the famous relativity equation E = mc2, in which the c in the equation stands for the immense speed of light.
  • 9-12: 10C/H5. Einstein's development of the theories of special and general relativity ranks as one of the greatest human accomplishments in all of history. Many predictions from the theories have been confirmed on both atomic and astronomical scales. Still, the search continues for an even more powerful theory of the architecture of the universe.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
  • 9-12: 11B/H1a. A mathematical model uses rules and relationships to describe and predict objects and events in the real world.
11D. Scale
  • 6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(Annenberg Foundation, 2010), WWW Document, (https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/).
Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter (Annenberg Foundation, 2010), <https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/>.
APA Format
Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter. (2010). Retrieved June 22, 2024, from Annenberg Foundation: https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/
Chicago Format
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter. Annenberg Foundation, 2010. https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/ (accessed 22 June 2024).
MLA Format
Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter. Annenberg Foundation, 2010. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 22 June 2024 <https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter}, Publisher = {Annenberg Foundation}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {22 June 2024}, ISBN = {1-57680-891-2}, Year = {2010} }
Refer Export Format

%T Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter %D 2010 %I Annenberg Foundation %U https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/ %O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D 2010 %T Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter %I Annenberg Foundation %V 2024 %N 22 June 2024 %9 text/html %@ 1-57680-891-2 %U https://www.learner.org/series/physics-for-the-21st-century/the-basic-building-blocks-of-matter/

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Style.org: Electronic References.

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Physics for the 21st Century: The Basic Building Blocks of Matter:

Is Part Of Physics for the 21st Century

A link to the full course: Physics for the 21st Century.

relation by Caroline Hall
Accompanies Physics for the 21st Century: The Fundamental Interactions

This is Chapter 2 of the Physics for the 21st Century course, which covers interactions among particles.

relation by Caroline Hall

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