Fundamental interaction facts for kids
There are four fundamental forces, sometimes called fundamental interactions. The forces are called fundamental because there is no simpler way for physicists to understand what the forces do or how they do it (their action). They are called interactions because the action of one object on another is matched by a reaction from the other.
We feel the effects of gravity and electromagnetism all the time.
- The gravitational force is described by Einstein's general theory of relativity and is understood to be due to the curvature of spacetime by the mass of matter.
- The electromagnetic force is due to electric charge. Charge causes electric force and movement of charge causes magnetic force.
The strong and weak interactions are forces at the smallest distances and explain nuclear interactions.
- The strong force binds protons and neutrons together and also keeps the nuclei of atoms together.
- The weak force causes beta decay.
A complete description of the forces requires advanced physics. The Standard Model explains three of these forces (electromagnetism, the weak force, and the strong force). Most physicists think that these become a single force under very high temperatures. This idea is known as the grand unification theory.
History
Classical theory
In his 1687 theory, Isaac Newton postulated space as an infinite and unalterable physical structure existing before, within, and around all objects while their states and relations unfold at a constant pace everywhere, thus absolute space and time. Inferring that all objects bearing mass approach at a constant rate, but collide by impact proportional to their masses, Newton inferred that matter exhibits an attractive force. His law of universal gravitation implied there to be instant interaction among all objects. As conventionally interpreted, Newton's theory of motion modelled a central force without a communicating medium. Thus Newton's theory violated the tradition, going back to Descartes, that there should be no action at a distance. Conversely, during the 1820s, when explaining magnetism, Michael Faraday inferred a field filling space and transmitting that force. Faraday conjectured that ultimately, all forces unified into one.
In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism as effects of an electromagnetic field whose third consequence was light, travelling at constant speed in vacuum. If his electromagnetic field theory held true in all inertial frames of reference, this would contradict Newton's theory of motion, which relied on Galilean relativity. If, instead, his field theory only applied to reference frames at rest relative to a mechanical luminiferous aether—presumed to fill all space whether within matter or in vacuum and to manifest the electromagnetic field—then it could be reconciled with Galilean relativity and Newton's laws. (However, such a "Maxwell aether" was later disproven; Newton's laws did, in fact, have to be replaced.)
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics was developed throughout the latter half of the 20th century. In the Standard Model, the electromagnetic, strong, and weak interactions associate with elementary particles, whose behaviours are modelled in quantum mechanics (QM). For predictive success with QM's probabilistic outcomes, particle physics conventionally models QM events across a field set to special relativity, altogether relativistic quantum field theory (QFT). Force particles, called gauge bosons—force carriers or messenger particles of underlying fields—interact with matter particles, called fermions. Everyday matter is atoms, composed of three fermion types: up-quarks and down-quarks constituting, as well as electrons orbiting, the atom's nucleus. Atoms interact, form molecules, and manifest further properties through electromagnetic interactions among their electrons absorbing and emitting photons, the electromagnetic field's force carrier, which if unimpeded traverse potentially infinite distance. Electromagnetism's QFT is quantum electrodynamics (QED).
The force carriers of the weak interaction are the massive W and Z bosons. Electroweak theory (EWT) covers both electromagnetism and the weak interaction. At the high temperatures shortly after the Big Bang, the weak interaction, the electromagnetic interaction, and the Higgs boson were originally mixed components of a different set of ancient pre-symmetry-breaking fields. As the early universe cooled, these fields split into the long-range electromagnetic interaction, the short-range weak interaction, and the Higgs boson. In the Higgs mechanism, the Higgs field manifests Higgs bosons that interact with some quantum particles in a way that endows those particles with mass. The strong interaction, whose force carrier is the gluon, traversing minuscule distance among quarks, is modeled in quantum chromodynamics (QCD). EWT, QCD, and the Higgs mechanism comprise particle physics' Standard Model (SM). Predictions are usually made using calculational approximation methods, although such perturbation theory is inadequate to model some experimental observations (for instance bound states and solitons). Still, physicists widely accept the Standard Model as science's most experimentally confirmed theory.
Beyond the Standard Model, some theorists work to unite the electroweak and strong interactions within a Grand Unified Theory (GUT). Some attempts at GUTs hypothesize "shadow" particles, such that every known matter particle associates with an undiscovered force particle, and vice versa, altogether supersymmetry (SUSY). Other theorists seek to quantize the gravitational field by the modelling behaviour of its hypothetical force carrier, the graviton and achieve quantum gravity (QG). One approach to QG is loop quantum gravity (LQG). Still other theorists seek both QG and GUT within one framework, reducing all four fundamental interactions to a Theory of Everything (ToE). The most prevalent aim at a ToE is string theory, although to model matter particles, it added SUSY to force particles—and so, strictly speaking, became superstring theory. Multiple, seemingly disparate superstring theories were unified on a backbone, M-theory. Theories beyond the Standard Model remain highly speculative, lacking great experimental support.
Overview of the fundamental 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 ħ is the reduced Planck constant). They attract or repel each other by exchanging bosons.
The interaction of any pair of fermions in perturbation theory can then be modelled thus:
- Two fermions go in → interaction by boson exchange → 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 constant). Since such interactions result in a change in momentum, they can give rise to classical Newtonian forces. In quantum mechanics, physicists often use the terms "force" and "interaction" interchangeably; for example, the weak interaction is sometimes referred to as the "weak 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 behaviour 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:
- Electric and magnetic force into electromagnetism;
- The electromagnetic interaction and the weak interaction into the electroweak interaction; see below.
Both magnitude ("relative strength") and "range" of the associated potential, as given in the table, are meaningful only within a rather complex theoretical framework. The table below lists properties of a conceptual scheme that remains the subject of ongoing research.
Interaction | Current theory | Mediators | Relative strength | Long-distance behavior (potential) | Range (m) |
---|---|---|---|---|---|
Weak | Electroweak theory (EWT) | W and Z bosons | 10^{33} | 10^{−18} | |
Strong | Quantum chromodynamics (QCD) |
gluons | 10^{38} | (Color confinement, see discussion below) |
10^{−15} |
Gravitation | General relativity (GR) |
gravitons (hypothetical) | 1 | ∞ | |
Electromagnetic | Quantum electrodynamics (QED) |
photons | 10^{36} | ∞ |
The modern (perturbative) 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. The full theory includes perturbations beyond simply fermions exchanging bosons; these additional perturbations can involve bosons that exchange fermions, as well as the creation or destruction of particles: see Feynman diagrams for examples.
See also
In Spanish: Interacciones fundamentales para niños