The Search for Strange Matter; January 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Crawford, Greiner; 6 Page(s)
For some years, physicists have enjoyed toying with a particularly intriguing puzzle. Protons and neutrons readily form either tiny clumps of matter (the various atomic nuclei) or very large clumps of matter (neutron stars). Yet between the invisible nucleus and the ultradense neutron star (really a vast nucleus that is some 11 kilometers or more in circumference), no form of nuclear matter has been detected. What is going on here? Do the laws of physics as we know them forbid nuclear particles from assembling themselves into objects that could fill this "middle" range? Or is this nuclear desert actually filled with new forms of matter, different in structure from ordinary nuclear matter, that investigators have failed to find?
In fact, the theory that embodies our current understanding of physics, the Standard Model, seems to be consistent with the existence of new forms of nuclear matter that might populate the desert. And if the Standard Model is right, the detection of such matter could solve a major cosmological mystery: the nature of the "missing" matter, thought to account for 90 percent of the observable universe. This is a prize worth winning. So, in an experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory, we, along with many collaborators from other research institutions, are searching for evidence of the existence of this form of nuclear matter that might fill the void.