After 17 years of searching, physicists believe they have found a missing building block of matter

It was once called the great white whale of physics. The longer the "top" quark managed to elude capture, the more obsessed its pursuers became with the importance of hunting it down. For in the subatomic world, the top was, scientists believed, the sixth and last of the quarks -- pointlike particles that constitute the basic building blocks of matter. As the years passed, failure to find the top became a source of consternation and potential embarrassment to the theorists who swore it must exist.

But last week the scientific equivalent of "thar she blows" echoed around the world. The news...

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