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Particle physics research is focused on subatomic particles, including atomic constituents such as electrons, protons, and neutrons (protons and neutrons are actually composite particles, made up of quarks), particles produced by radioactive and scattering processes, such as photons, neutrinos, and muons, as well as a wide range of exotic particles.

The dynamics of particle physics are governed by quantum mechanics. As such, they exhibit wave-particle duality, displaying particle-like behavior under certain experimental conditions and wave-like behavior in others. In more technical terms, they are described by state vectors in a Hilbert space, which is also treated in quantum field theory. Following the convention of particle physicists, elementary particles refer to objects such as electrons and photons, it is well known that these types of particles display wave-like properties as well.

All particles and their interactions observed to date can almost be described entirely by a quantum field theory called the Standard Model. The Standard Model has 17 species of elementary particles : 12 fermions or 24 if distinguishing antiparticles, 4 vector bosons (5 with antiparticles), and 1 scalar boson. These elementary particles can combine to form composite particles, accounting for the hundreds of other species of particles discovered since the 1960s. The Standard Model has been found to agree with almost all the experimental tests conducted to date. However, most particle physicists believe that it is an incomplete description of nature, and that a more fundamental theory awaits discovery. In recent years, measurements of neutrino mass have provided the first experimental deviations from the Standard Model.

The laboratory experiments are mainly devoted the observation of the Standard Model.