Quantum Chromodynamics

The laws of subatomic physics dictate that individual quarks are never seen in the wild; they always travel around in twos or threes. At sufficiently high temperatures, however—such as those reached in a high-energy particle collider—protons and neutrons are thought to disintegrate into a soup, or plasma, of individual quarks and gluons, before cooling and recombining into ordinary matter. That is what QCD predicts, at any rate. So, since 1994, an international team of researchers at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics in Geneva, has been smashing lead nuclei together and then combing through the hail of subatomic particles that result from these collisions to look for evidence of quark-gluon plasma. On February 10, 2000 the CERN researchers announced that analysis of the results of seven separate types of collision collectively provided evidence of the creation, for the first time, of just such a soup. For a fraction of a second they had, in other words, recreated the conditions that prevailed just after the Big Bang. Admittedly, this declaration of victory came with several provisos. Ulrich Heinz, a theoretical physicist at CERN, says that more experiments at higher energies will be needed to verify the results. But, having cranked up their accelerators to achieve the most energetic collisions possible, the CERN team can go no further. So, the announcement also signalled a passing of the torch to the new Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York, which starts an experimental programme at higher energies later this year.

  • Effective Field Theories
  • Lattice QCD
  • Perturbative QCD
  • Chiral Perturbation Theory
  • Dense Quark Matter
  • Correlations & Fluctuations

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