quantum chromodynamics

quantum chromodynamics (QCD), quantum field theory that describes the properties of the strong interactions between quarks and between protons and neutrons in the framework of quantum theory. Quarks possess a distinctive property called color that governs their binding together to form other elementary particles. Analogous to electric charge in charged particles, color is of three varieties, arbitrarily designated as red, blue, and yellow, and—analogous to positive and negative charges—three anticolor varieties. Just as positively and negatively charged particles form electrically neutral atoms, colored quarks form particles with no net color. Quarks interact by emitting and absorbing massless particles called gluons, each of which carries a color-anticolor pair. Eight kinds of gluons are required to transmit the strong force between quarks, e.g., a blue quark might interact with a yellow quark by exchanging a blue-antiyellow gluon.

The concept of color was proposed by American physicist Oscar Greenberg and independently by Japanese physicist Yoichiro Nambu in 1964. The theory was confirmed in 1979 when quarks were shown to emit gluons during studies of high-energy particle collisions at the German national laboratory in Hamburg. QCD is nearly identical in mathematical structure to quantum electrodynamics (QED) and to the unified theory of weak and electromagnetic interactions advanced by American physicist Steven Weinberg and Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam.

See F. J. Yndurain, Quantum Chromodynamics: An Introduction to the Theory of Quarks and Gluons (1983); G. Altarelli, The Development of Perturbative QCD (1994); W. Greiner and A. Schafer, Quantum Chromodynamics (1994).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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