Fundamental interaction

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In physics, a fundamental interaction or fundamental force is a process by which elementary particles interact with each other. An interaction is often described as a physical field, and is mediated by the exchange of gauge bosons between particles. An interaction is fundamental when it cannot be described in terms of other interactions.


[edit] Overview

An overview of the various families of elementary and composite particles, and the theories describing their interactions

In the conceptual model of fundamental interactions, matter consists of fermions, which carry properties called charges and spin 1/2 (intrinsic angular momentum ±ħ/2, where h/2π is the reduced Planck's constant). They attract or repel each other by exchanging bosons.

The interaction of any pair of fermions can then be modeled thus:

Two fermions go in \rightarrow interaction by boson exchange \rightarrow Two changed fermions go out.

The exchange of bosons always carries energy and momentum between the fermions, thereby changing their speed and direction. The exchange may also transport a charge between the fermions, changing the charges of the fermions in the process (e.g. turn them from one type of fermion to another). Since bosons carry one unit of angular momentum, the fermion's spin direction will flip from +1/2 to −1/2 (or vice versa) during such an exchange (in units of the reduced Planck's constant).

Because an interaction results in fermions attracting and repelling each other, an older term for "interaction" is force.

According to the present understanding, there are four fundamental interactions or forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the weak interaction, and the strong interaction. Their magnitude and behavior vary greatly, as described in the table below. Modern physics attempts to explain every observed physical phenomenon by these fundamental interactions. Moreover, reducing the number of different interaction types is seen as desirable. Two cases in point are the unification of:

Both magnitude ("relative strength") and "range", as given in the table, are meaningful only within a rather complex theoretical framework. It should also be noted that the table below lists properties of a conceptual scheme that is still the subject of ongoing research.

Interaction Current Theory Mediators Relative Strength[1] Long-Distance Behavior Range(m)
Strong Quantum chromodynamics
gluons 1038 1
(see discussion below)
Electromagnetic Quantum electrodynamics
photons 1036 \frac{1}{r^2} ∞(infinite)
Weak Electroweak Theory W and Z bosons 1025 \frac{e^{-m_{W,Z}r}}{r} 10-18
Gravitation General Relativity
gravitons (not yet discovered) 1 \frac{1}{r^2} ∞(infinite)

[dubious ][citation needed]

The modern quantum mechanical view of the fundamental forces other than gravity is that particles of matter (fermions) do not directly interact with each other, but rather carry a charge, and exchange virtual particles (gauge bosons), which are the interaction carriers or force mediators. For example, photons mediate the interaction of electric charges, and gluons mediate the interaction of color charges.

[edit] The interactions

[edit] Gravitation

Gravitation is by far the weakest of the four interactions. Nevertheless, it is important for macroscopic objects and over long distances for the following reasons. Gravitational force:

  • Has an infinite range, like the electromagnetic force, but unlike the strong and weak forces, which have limited range;
  • Is the only interaction that acts universally on all matter;
  • Is permanent. It can neither be absorbed nor transformed.

There are elementary particles, such as neutrons and neutrinos, lacking electrostatic charge. Electrostatic attraction is not relevant for large celestial bodies, such as planets, stars, and galaxies, simply because such bodies contain equal numbers of protons and electrons and so have a net electric charge of zero. On the other hand, nothing "cancels" gravity. Hence all objects having mass are subject to gravitational force, which works in only one direction: attraction.

Because of its long range, gravity is responsible for such large-scale phenomena as the structure of galaxies, black holes, and the expansion of the universe. Gravity also explains astronomical phenomena on more modest scales, such as planetary orbits, as well as everyday experience: objects fall; heavy objects act as if they were glued to the ground; animals and humans can jump only so high.

Gravitation was the first interaction to be described mathematically. In ancient times, Aristotle theorized that objects of different masses fall at different rates. During the Scientific Revolution, Galileo Galilei experimentally determined that this was not the case — neglecting the friction due to air resistance, all objects accelerate toward the Earth at the same rate. Isaac Newton's law of Universal Gravitation (1687) was a good approximation to the behaviour of gravity. Our present-day understanding of gravity stems from Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity of 1915, a more accurate (especially for cosmological masses and distances) description of gravity in terms of the geometry of space-time.

Merging general relativity and quantum mechanics into a more general theory of quantum gravity is an area of active research. It is widely believed that in a theory of quantum gravity, gravitational force would be mediated by a hypothetical massless spin 2 particle called the graviton. Gravitons have yet to be observed.

Although general relativity has been experimentally confirmed as an accurate theory of gravity except on all but the smallest scales, there are rival theories of gravity. Those taken seriously by the physics community all reduce to general relativity in some limit, and the focus of observational work is to establish limitations on what deviations from general relativity are possible.

The weakness of gravity is often demonstrated by holding a pin in the air using a simple magnet (such as a refrigerator magnet). The magnet is able to hold the pin against the gravitational pull of the entire earth, so that when the magnet is removed from the pin, it falls to the earth again.

[edit] Electroweak interaction

Electromagnetism and weak interaction appear to be very different at everyday low energies. They can be modeled using two different theories. However at above unification energy, on the order of 100 GeV, they would merge into a single electroweak force.

Electroweak theory is very important for modern cosmology, particularly on how the universe was evolved. This is because shortly after the Big Bang, the temperature was approximately above 1015 K. Electromagnetic force and weak force were merged into a combined electroweak force.

For contributions to the unification of the weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, Abdus Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.[2][3]

[edit] Electromagnetism

Electromagnetism is the force that acts between electrically charged particles. This phenomenon includes the electrostatic force acting between charged particles at rest, and the combined effect of electric and magnetic forces acting between charge particles moving relative to each other.

Electromagnetism is infinite-ranged like gravity, but vastly stronger, and therefore describes almost all macroscopic phenomena of everyday experience, ranging from the impenetrability of solids, friction, rainbows, lightning, and all human-made devices using electric current, such as television, lasers, and computers. Electromagnetism fundamentally determines all macroscopic, and many atomic level, properties of the chemical elements, including all chemical bonding.

Electrical and magnetic phenomena have been observed since ancient times, but it was only in the 19th century that it was discovered that electricity and magnetism are two aspects of the same fundamental interaction. By 1864, Maxwell's equations had rigorously quantified this unified interaction. Maxwell's theory, restated using vector calculus, is the classical theory of electromagnetism, suitable for most technological purposes.

The move away from this classical theory began with Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity, which showed that the speed of light is constant no matter how fast the observer is moving. In other work, Einstein also explained the photoelectric effect by hypothesizing that light was transmitted in quanta, which we now call photons. Starting around 1927, Paul Dirac combined quantum mechanics with the relativistic theory of electromagnetism. Further work in the 1940s, by Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, completed this theory, which is now called quantum electrodynamics, the received theory of electromagnetism.

[edit] Weak interaction

The weak interaction or weak nuclear force is responsible for some nuclear phenomena such as beta decay. Electromagnetism and the weak force are now understood to be two aspects of a unified electroweak interaction — this discovery was the first step toward the unified theory known as the Standard Model. In the theory of the electroweak interaction, the carriers of the weak force are the massive gauge bosons called the W and Z bosons. The weak interaction is the only known interaction which does not conserve parity; it is left-right asymmetric. The weak interaction even violates CP symmetry but does conserve CPT.

[edit] Strong interaction

The strong interaction, or strong nuclear force, is the most complicated interaction, mainly because of the way it varies with distance. At distances greater than 10 femtometers, the strong force is practically unobservable. Moreover, it holds only inside the nucleus.

After the nucleus was discovered in 1908, it was clear that a new force was needed to overcome the electrostatic repulsion, a manifestation of electromagnetism, of the positively charged protons. Otherwise the nucleus could not exist. Moreover, the force had to be strong enough to squeeze the protons into a volume that is 10-15th of that of the entire atom. From the short range of this force, Hideki Yukawa predicted that it was associated with a massive particle, whose mass is approximately 100 MeV.

The 1947 discovery of the pion ushered in the modern era of particle physics. Hundreds of hadrons were discovered from the 1940s to 1960s, and an extremely complicated theory of hadrons as strongly interacting particles was developed. Most notably:

While each of these approaches offered deep insights, no approach led directly to a fundamental theory.

Murray Gell-Mann along with George Zweig first proposed fractionally charged quarks in 1961. Throughout the 1960s, different authors considered theories similar to the modern fundamental theory of QCD as simple models for the interactions of quarks. The first to hypothesize the gluons of QCD were Moo-Young Han and Yoichiro Nambu, who introduced the quark color charge and hypothesized that it might be associated with a force-carrying field. At that time, however, it was difficult to see how such a model could permanently confine quarks. Han and Nambu also assigned each quark color an integer electrical charge, so that the quarks were fractionally charged only on average, and they did not expect the quarks in their model to be permanently confined.

In 1971, Murray Gell-Mann and Harald Fritsch proposed that the Han/Nambu color gauge field was the correct theory of the short-distance interactions of fractionally charged quarks. A little later, David Gross, Frank Wilczek, and David Politzer discovered that this theory had the property of asymptotic freedom, allowing them to make contact with experimental evidence. They concluded that QCD was the complete theory of the strong interactions, correct at all distance scales. The discovery of asymptotic freedom led most physicists to accept QCD, since it became clear that even the long-distance properties of the strong interactions could be consistent with experiment, if the quarks are permanently confined.

Assuming that quarks are confined, Mikhail Shifman, Arkady Vainshtein, and Valentine Zakharov were able to compute the properties of many low-lying hadrons directly from QCD, with only a few extra parameters to describe the vacuum. In 1980, Kenneth Wilson published computer calculations based on the first principles of QCD, establishing, to a level of confidence tantamount to certainty, that QCD will confine quarks. Since then, QCD has been the established theory of the strong interactions.

QCD is a theory of fractionally charged quarks interacting by means of 8 photon-like particles called gluons. The gluons interact with each other, not just with the quarks, and at long distances the lines of force collimate into strings. In this way, the mathematical theory of QCD not only explains how quarks interact over short distances, but also the string-like behavior, discovered by Chew and Frautschi, which they manifest over longer distances.

[edit] Current developments

The Standard Model (SM) is a theory of all fundamental forces except gravitation; however, the SM does not tie them together. A major current research theme is Grand unified theory (GUT), under which all particles arise from a single interaction. GUTs predict relationships among constants of nature that are unrelated in the SM. GUTs also predict gauge coupling unification for the relative strengths of the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces, a prediction verified at the LEP in 1991 for supersymmetric theories.

An offshoot of a GUT would be a theory of quantum gravity. While at present there are several candidate theories of quantum gravity, including string theory, loop quantum gravity, and twistor theory, none is widely accepted.

Some theories beyond the Standard Model include a hypothetical fifth force, and the search for such a force is an ongoing line of experimental research in physics. In supersymmetric theories, there are particles that acquire their masses only through supersymmetry breaking effects and these particles, known as moduli can mediate new forces. Another reason to look for new forces is the recent discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, giving rise to a need to explain a nonzero cosmological constant, and possibly to other modifications of general relativity.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Approximate. The exact strengths depend on the particles and energies involved.
  2. ^ Sander Bais (2005), The Equations. Icons of knowledge ISBN 0-674-01967-9 p 84
  3. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1979". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved on 2008-12-16. 

[edit] References

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