Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Quantum Mechanics and Gravity
Name: Joe N.
Status: student
Age: 16
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 5/24/2004


Question:
I was wondering about the energy involving gravity. According to quantum mechanics, if I understand correctly, gravity can be described in terms of a virtual particle called a graviton which is exchanged between every type of fermion.


Replies:
I doubt that I can do better than your teacher, but I will try. Maybe hearing it in somewhat different terms will help. These ideas are subtle and are not all well understood or agreed upon by everyone. I will give you what I believe are the generally agreed upon ideas.

My comments follow your questions below.

-----------------
It is exchanged between all particles with mass or energy (the same thing by Einstein's well-known equation E = m c^2 and produces the gravitational force just as the exchange of photons produces electrical forces.

Does this bouncing back and forth of the graviton require energy? It would seem to me that after a certain period of time a particle would run out of energy to expel gravity.

-----------------
It doesn't "run out of energy", but it has to "borrow" energy to exist at all. However, since a graviton has zero mass (we believe), the graviton can exist a long time if it's kinetic energy is very small. This is by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP) which says DE x Dt >= hbar. So if the energy is very small, the uncertainty in that energy (DE) is very small and the uncertainty in the time (Dt) can be very large. So the graviton can exist for a VERY long time if its energy is VERY small. This is why gravity (like the coulomb force) extends to infinity, though it weakens like 1/R^2 as the distance R increases. Incidentally, particles do not "expel gravity" as far as I know. In fact, I do not know what those words mean

-----------------
I also do not understand how each particle is gravitationally affected by every other particle in the universe. I might also conclude that entropy would play some part..?.. My teacher tried to explain it to me, but she did not do a very good job. If you could explicate in more simple terms, that would be great. Thank You

-----------------
Yes every particle with mass attracts every other particle in the universe. When you say you do not understand this simple statement, I guess it's because you find it hard to believe (perhaps because there are so many particles in the universe). It is nonetheless true, as far as we know. However, this comment should probably be modified since we now know there is "dark energy" which apparently produces negative gravity which is causing the speed of the expansion of the universe to increase! WEIRD!!

If you would like to learn more of these matters, I would recommend the book "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene. He tells it like it is, so it is not always easy going, but there is no mathematics and I believe someone with the interest you have shown would get a lot out of this book. There are other good books in this area (I especially like "Inflation" by Alan Guth); you might like to visit a Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore to see which you like.

Best, Dick Plano, Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers University



Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory