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The Nucleus

The atomic nucleus consists of nucleons—protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks and held together by the strong force generated by gluon exchange between quarks. In nuclei with many nucleons, the effective strong forces may be described by the exchange of mesons (particles composed of quark-antiquark pairs). A proton consists of two up quarks and one down quark along with short-lived constituents of the strong force field. A neutron is similar except that it has two down quarks and one up quark. Although scientists are convinced that nucleons are composed of quarks, a single quark has never been isolated experimentally. Energy brought into a nucleus to try to separate quarks increases the force between them. At high enough energy, the addition of energy creates new particles rather than freeing the quarks.

  last updated: August 9, 2000 webmaster