Simple thermodynamic reasoning is used to argue that at temperatures of the order of a trillion kelvin, QCD, the theory which describes strongly interacting particles such as protons and neutrons under normal conditions, undergoes a phase transition to a plasma of more elementary constituents called quarks and gluons. A review is presented of what is known about the plasma phase both from theoretical calculations and from experiments involving the collisions of large atomic nuclei moving at relativistic speeds. Finally the behaviour of nuclear material under conditions of extreme density is considered, and possible exotic phenomena such as quark matter and colour superconductivity are discussed.
- Pub Date:
- April 2001
- Physics - Physics Education;
- Physics - Popular Physics
- Article for final year undergraduate physicists, to appear in "Contemporary Physics". 34 pages, 13 figures