Dawn of the quark ages (Image: Studio Tonne)

ASK them to name their heart’s truest desire, and many a science nut might say the answer to life, the universe and everything – or, failing that, a fully functioning lightsaber.

Odd, then, that one field of scientific enquiry that could conceivably provide both gets so little press. After all the hoopla of the past few years, you could be forgiven for believing that understanding matter’s fundamentals is all about the Higgs boson – the “God particle” that explains where mass comes from.

The Higgs is undoubtedly important. But it is actually pretty insignificant for real stuff like you and me, accounting for just 1 or 2 per cent of normal matter’s mass. And the huge energy needed to make a Higgs means we’re unlikely to see technology exploiting it any time soon.

Two more familiar, though less glamorous, …

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