Shattered Glass; April 2004; Scientific American Magazine; by David Appell; 3 Page(s)
Physicists investigating heavy-particle collisions believe they are on the track of a universal form of matter, one common to very high energy particles ranging from protons to heavy nuclei such as uranium. Some think that this matter, called a color glass condensate, may explain new nuclear properties and the process of particle formation during collisions. Experimentalists have recently reported intriguing data that suggest a color glass condensate has actually formed in past work.
Particles such as protons and neutrons consist of smaller particles called quarks and gluons. Just as electrons have an electrical charge and transmit their force via photons, quarks have a "color" charge and transmit their force via gluons. But one major difference is that gluons, unlike photons, interact strongly with one another. As protons or heavy nuclei, such as gold, are accelerated to nearly the speed of light, the quarks and gluons inside flatten into a pancakelike structure, a relativistic effect called Lorentz contraction. The energy of acceleration also produces more gluons. The flattened multitude of gluons then begins to overlap, falling into the same quantum state, similar to the way atoms in a low-temperature Bose-Einstein condensate overlap and behave collectively as one gigantic atom.