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The Early Universe Soup

Collision of two gold nuclei at the RHIC accelerator. An attempt to produce quark-gluon plasma in the laboratory. In the first few millionths of the second after the Big Bang, the universe looked very different than today. In fact the universe existed as a different form of matter altogether: the quark-gluon plasma or QGP, a weird 'soup' of quarks and gluons buzzing around frantically at temperatures of over 1,000,000,000,000 degrees.

Quarks are tiny particles (approximately same in size to electrons) which make up protons, neutrons and other so called 'hadron' particles. Just like photons are 'force carrier' particles for the electro-magnetic force, gluons are force carrier particles for the strong force. The strong force is the strongest force in the universe and is responsible for keeping the quarks 'glued' together inside protons and neutrons. The strong force is actually so strong that no one has even succeeded in separating individual quarks, they always come in pairs of two or three.

Immediately after the Big Bang the temperature was so high that it overpowered the gluons and freed the quarks to buzz around. The result was a dense 'soup' of free quarks and gluons; the quark-gluon plasma. This plasma quickly disappeared as the universe cooled. In fact, the QGP was gone within the first hundred-thousandth of a second when the gluons started 'trapping' all the quarks into hadrons (process called hadronization). After the first second or so the first nuclei started forming from those hadrons, and it took almost a billion years for the first atoms to form. Believe it or not, humans are trying to reproduce this QGP in the laboratory! A project called Phenix at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island is trying to produce QGP by smashing particles at extreme speeds inside an accelerator called RHIC (Relativisting Heavy Ion Collider). The early universe soup may be soon served at Brookhaven, back by popular demand after being forgotten for billions and billions of years!


About the Author

Anton SkorucakAnton Skorucak, MS
Anton Skorucak is a founder and publisher of Anton Skorucak has a Master of Science (MS) degree in physics from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California and a B.Sc. in physics with a minor in material science from the McMaster University, Canada. He is the president and creator of, a comprehensive physics and astronomy online education, research and reference web site.

Further Reading
Quarks and Gluons: A Century of Particle Charges
by M. Y. Han

Related Web Links
Quark-gluon plasma

Signs of the Quark-Gluon Plasma?
by Physical Review Focus, APS

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