Fundamental interaction
Name of Interaction | Relative Magnitude | Behavior |
---|---|---|
Strong nuclear force | 10^{40} | 1/r^{7} |
Electromagnetic force | 10^{38} | 1/r^{2} |
Weak nuclear force | 10^{15} | 1/r^{5} to 1/r^{7} |
Gravity | 10^{0} | 1/r^{2} |
An interaction is one of the four mechanisms by which particles interact with each other. They are sometimes called "fundamental forces" although many find this terminology misleading as the term forces evokes the obsolete Newtonian idea that one object directly exerts a force on a distant object. Besides, Einstein showed that there is no "fundamental force" involved in gravity in the Newton sense : no gravitational force is acting at a distance to cause a body to accelerate (as it has been falsely assumed a century ago in the Newtonian theory of gravitation). The modern view is that objects do not directly interact with each other but rather generate a field which effects the behavior of distant objects. From quantum field theory three of the fields which produce an interaction (all but gravitational) are associated with one or more particles. These fields are in turn believed to be the result of some fundamental symmetries. The gravitational field as explained by general relativity isn't associated with any particles but it is a field of curvatures of spacetime (composed of the gravitational time dilation and the curvature of space).
Traditionally, physicists have counted four interfactions, which were gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force. It is strongly believed that three of them are manifestations of a single interaction : Electromagnetism and the weak nuclear forces have been shown to be two aspects of a single electroweak force. Somewhat more speculatively, the electroweak force and the strong nuclear interaction have been combined using grand unified theories. How to combine the fourth interaction, gravity, with the other three is still a topic of research into quantum gravity.
Every observed physical phenomenon, from galaxies colliding with each other, to spacecraft orbiting the Earth, to protons jiggling around inside the nucleus of an atom, to quarks jiggling around inside a proton, can currently be ultimately explained in terms of one or more of these four interactions. Understandably therefore, the understanding of these interactions has occupied the attention of physicists for over half a century, and continues to do so.
Table of contents |
2 Current status 3 Further reading 4 Related articles |
The interactions
Gravity
Gravitation was the first kind of interaction which was explained by a mathematical theory. Isaac Newton's law of Universal Gravitation was a good approximation of the behaviour of the gravity. In 1916, Albert Einstein published the General Theory of Relativity, a more accurate description of gravity in terms of the geometry of space-time.
An active area of research today involves merging the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics into a more general theory of quantum gravity. It is widely believed that in a theory of quantum gravity, gravity would be mediated by a particle which is known as the graviton. Gravitons are hypothetical particles not yet explained theoretically and the theory of gravitational interaction, general relativity, is based so far on confirmed observationally curvatures of spacetime.
Although general relativity appears to present an accurate theory of gravity in the non-quantum mechanical limit, there is a number of alternate theories of gravity. Those under any serious consideration 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.
Because of its long range, gravity is responsible for such large-scale phenomena as the structure of galaxies, hypothetical black holes and the hypothetical expansion of the universe, as well as phenomena closer to everyday experience such as the orbits of planets and falling apples.
Main article : Gravity
Electromagnetism
Electromagnetism is the force that acts between electrically chargedd particles. This includes the electrostatic force, acting between charges at rest, and the combined effect of electric and magnetic forces acting between charges moving relative to each other.
Electromagnetism is a long-ranged force that is relatively strong, and therefore describes almost all phenomena of our everyday experience -- phenomena ranging all the way from lasers and radios to the structure of atoms and the structure of metals to friction and rainbows.
Electromagnetic phenomena are described at the classical level by Maxwell's equations, known since the latter half of the 19th century. The quantum theory of electromagnetism is known as quantum electrodynamics (QED). In QED, charged particles are understood as exerting forces on each other due to the exchange of photons.
One very curious property of electromagnetism is that the classical theory of electromagnetism arises naturally from the equations of general relativity with the assumption that there is an extra fourth dimension of space. This property is the basis of Kaluza-Klein theories which have been used to formulate a theory of quantum gravity.
Main article: Electromagnetism
Weak nuclear force
The weak nuclear force is responsible for some phenomena at the scale of the atomic nucleus, such as beta decay. Electromagnetism and the weak force were theoretically understood to be two aspects of a unified electroweak force - this was the first step toward the unified theory known as the Standard Model. In electroweak theory, the carriers of the weak force are massive gauge bosons called the W and Z bosons. The weak force is an example of a physical theory in which parity is not conserved i.e., which is left-right asymmetric.
Main article: Weak interaction
Strong nuclear force
The strong nuclear force is the force holding together nucleons inside the atomic nucleus. The strong force is independent of electric charge, and holds together, for example, two protons inside the minute volume of a Helium nucleus in spite of their tremendous electromagnetic repulsion.
The quantum theory of the strong force is called quantum chromodynamics or QCD. In QCD, the strong force is carried by particles called gluons and it acts between particles that carry a "color charge", i.e. quarks and gluons. Composite particles such as nucleons or mesons are made up out of quarks.
Main article: Strong interaction
Current status
The Standard Model is a unified quantum mechanical theory of three fundamental forces - electromagnetism, weak interactions and strong interactions. Currently, there is no accepted candidate for a theory of quantum gravity. The search for an acceptable theory of quantum gravity, and a quantum mechanical grand unified theory, are important areas of current physics research. For the time being though the gravitational force does not belong to "fundamental forces" because gravitational interaction is thought to be of geometrical rather than dynamical nature. Particles are thought to be moving as they do because it is thought that the curvatures of spacetime direct their movement rather than they are pushed or pulled by forces resulting from the exchange of gravitons.
It is currently believed by many that all interactions can be explained in terms of four forces i.e. if the gravitational force is shown to be a fundamental force. Presently gravitational force isn't considered to be a fundamental force that would act at a distance through exchange of gravitons but a pseudoforce (inertial force) that exists only while one object is pushed by inertia of another, i.e. only on contact between two or more particles colliding with each other. However, as an addition to this hypothetic fourth fundamental force, an exotic fifth force has been proposed by some physicists from time to time, mostly to explain discrepancies between predicted and measured values of the gravitational constant. As of 2004, all of the experiments which seem to indicate a fifth force have been explainable in terms of experimental errors.
Further reading
- R.P.Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, (MIT Press, 1967) [ISBN 0262560038]
- S.Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, (Basic Books, 1993) [ISBN 0465024378]
- S.Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory, (Vintage Books USA, 1994) [ISBN 0679744088]
- T.Padmanabhan, After The First Three Minutes - The Story of Our Universe, (Cambridge University Press, 1998) [ISBN 0521629721]
Related articles
- Physics
- History of physics
- Basic physics topics
- Quantum mechanics
- Particle physics
- Standard Model
- Gravity