Physics at Virginia

"Inside the Proton: science fact, speculation, and the stuff of science fiction"

Professor Gordon Cates , University of Virginia - Department of Physics
[Host: Kent Paschke]

Whereas the structure of the atom has been  understood for many years, the internal structure of the proton (and neutron) is the subject of active research.  Understanding the nucleon is difficult because its structure is governed by quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, which has not been solved exactly in the non-perturbative or low-energy regime.  The proton's structure is intriguing, however, for many reasons.  For example, we think of the proton as being made of three quarks, but the mass of those quarks only accounts for about 1% of the proton's mass.  The remaining 99%, and hence 99% of the known mass in the universe, is due to exotic effects associated with the QCD vacuum.  While a great deal of work remains to be done, the way in which we visualize the proton has changed dramatically since the discovery of quarks.  Just as the structure of the atom was unveiled early in the 20th century, the structure of the proton is being unveiled in the first decades of the 21st century.  Another intriguing aspect of the proton arises from the fact that QCD is the only theory in nature that has essentially no free parameters. String theory, that attempts to unify our understanding of gravity and the quantum world, grew out of early efforts to understand the strong interaction.  Since string theory deals with the topology of space and time, it is tempting to believe that a deep understanding of the proton may one day provide a window into even more fundamental questions. The colloquium will cover some recent developments in our understanding of the nucleon, as well as providing a glimpse of where this rich area of research is heading in upcoming years.

Friday, September 17, 2021
3:30 PM
Physics Building, Room 204
Note special room.

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