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In the early 1970s, physics had a symmetry problem. According to the Standard Model, the guiding framework of particle physics, a symmetry between particles and forces in our universe and a mirror version should be broken.

It was broken by the weak force, a fundamental force involved in processes like radioactive decay. 

This breaking should feed into the interactions mediated by another fundamental force, the strong force. But experiments show that, unlike the weak force, the strong force obeys mirror symmetry perfectly. No one could explain it.

The problem confounded physicists for years. Then, in 1977, physicists Roberto Peccei and Helen Quinn found a solution: a mechanism that, if it existed, would cause the strong force to obey this symmetry and right the Standard Model. 

Shortly after, Frank Wilczek and Steven Weinberg—both of whom went on to win the Nobel Prize—realized that this mechanism creates an entirely new particle. Wilczek ultimately dubbed this new particle the axion, after a dish detergent with the same name, for its ability to “clean up” the symmetry problem.

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Category: Science