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Question:
WHAT DO GLUONS DO, AND WHAT ARE THEY MADE OF?



Replies:
Gluons transmit "color" force between quarks. To define these terms: protons, neutrons, and other particles typically appearing in an atomic nucleus are assumed to be made up of several particles called quarks. The proton and neutron, for example, are each made up of three quarks. Therefore the force between protons and neutrons, called the "strong nuclear force", which holds the nucleus together despite the fierce mutual repulsion of the positively charged protons, must be the result of some other, more complicated force between the quarks. This force is called the "color" force, although it has nothing to do with color as we know it. Now, forces are transmitted by fields (i.e. electric forces are transmitted by electric fields), and with quantum mechanics these fields can take on only certain strengths separated by tiny gaps (thus the strength of electric fields can be increased only in eensy-weensy discrete jumps). One discrete jump in field strength (at a given frequency) is described as the addition of one "particle" of the field, for a variety of reasons. This particle of the field is usually given its own name, although in the case of gravity it seems like it will be called just the "graviton". In the case of electric fields, it is called a "photon," while in the case of color fields, it is called a "gluon," because of course it helps the quarks stayed glued together, ho ho ho. High-energy physics and cosmology are full of amusing names, MACHOs, WIMPs, charmed particles --- all of which mean something --- as well as droll expressions for real physical principles, such as "black holes have no hair."

christopher grayce



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