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Just as Rutherford used zinc sulfide to test for the presence of invisible alpha particles and used this knowledge to determine the path of alpha particles, modern physicists must look at particles' decay products, and from these deduce the particles' existence.

To look for these various particles and decay products, physicists have designed multi-component detectors that test different aspects of an event. Each component of a modern detector is used for measuring particle energies and momenta, and/or distinguishing different particle types. When all these components work together to detect an event, individual particles can be singled out from the multitudes for analysis.

Following each event, computers collect and interpret the vast quantity of data from the detectors and present the extrapolated results to the physicist.