Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What are Virtual Particles

  1. Apr 2, 2013 #1
    Can somebody explain to me exactly what Virtual Particles are (Like the Higgs Boson) and their respective virtual fields, like what properties do they possess compared to matter? Are there anti virtual particles? If Someone could give a basic introduction, that would be greatly appreciated! (sorry this may seem trivial or to complex for a forum, but curiosity got to me in physics)
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2013 #2
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Apr 3, 2013 #3
    Virtual particles are short lived particles that borrow energy from the no-so-empty vacuum of space. They adhere to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle [itex]\Delta t \Delta E >= \frac{\hbar}{2}[/itex] . So the more massive or energetic a particle the less time it will live. I think these are known as quantum fluctuations as they are quite random. Virtual particles are also mathematically used when looking at particle interactions. A virtual photon is the mediator of the EM force between two electrons. W and Z bosons mediate the weak force etc. The reason we use the virtual particles is because in the case of the W boson it has quite a bit of mass and the energy of the two weakly interacting particles doesn't allow such a massive particle to come into existence, hence we say it is virtual. Sorry for the last few sentences they may not make sense and may need a bit more clarificaition :). hope that helps somewhat

    EDIT: Also the mass of a virtual particle usually indicates the distance of interaction. This is why the heavy W and Z bosons interact at short ranges because they are more massive than a virtual photon.
  5. Apr 3, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2017 Award

    Virtual particles are a mnemotechnical term to confuse beginners in learning QFT ;-)).

    Usually one uses the term for the propagators in Feynman diagrams, symbolized by internal lines. They are not particles. What comes closer as a classical analogy are fields mediating interactions in relativistic classical mechanics, but even this can be pretty misleading. My advise is to avoid this notion completely!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook