Friday, March 11, 2011

On Going Where the Real Energy Is: Fundamental Forces

Images from Wikipedia "forces" and "quarks"
The image above portrays three "quarks", particles which when combined make up larger particles such as neutrons and protons. Quarks come in different varieties, and are bound together to form larger particles by "gluons." Gluons moderate the so-called "strong nuclear force," which may hold the answer to a limitless source of energy.
Humans get most of their energy from chemical reactions, moderated by the electromagnetic force. Such chemical energy is far less potent (less dense) than nuclear energy -- either fission, fusion, or LENRs (low energy nuclear reactions). The forces moderating nuclear reactions are far more powerful than the electromagnetic forces moderating chemical reactions -- which is why smart fission can provide humans with abundant energy for thousands of years, and fusion power is essentially limitless in human terms. But to truly take best advantage of fission, fusion, and LENRs, we need to understand the nuclear forces better.
...Despite many hundreds of well-functioning nuclear power plants, our understanding of nuclear forces is only empirical, and empirical knowledge is always imperfect.

For example, in producing nuclear energy, the decay reactions repeat many times, with the imperfections of every repetition resulting in a loss of predictive power of computations. This hampers the optimisation process, and is one of the main reasons why several large projects investigating energy production using more abundant uranium-238 or thorium (fast breeder reactors) were closed in Europe and the United States before they achieved the expected level of performance.

Another problem is the nuclear waste that emerges when energy is produced in the decay process. The waste can be substantially, or even completely, reduced if we could use an alternative form of nuclear decay that is triggered by externally accelerated particles. Here, too, however, we need more precise knowledge of the properties of nuclear processes.

The force binding atomic nuclei is a special case of the "strong force", one of the four fundamental forces in nature, and is extremely difficult to investigate, because it acts very quickly and violently. Around 50 years ago, it was proposed to study the strong forces by firing protons at each other at very high energies.

...Several large accelerator research centres were built, and the scattering of particles at high energies revealed a fascinating structure of matter. New particles, called gluons, were found to mediate the strong force. Their discovery should provide a clue to precise knowledge of the strong force.

At short distances, gluons create an attractive force that is pretty weak and well understood. But, at larger distances, comparable to the proton radius, the force becomes really strong, and a very large number of gluons is involved, forming complicated structures that are not well known today. Therefore, for some time, it was not expected that the properties of the strong force could be directly derived from the properties of gluons.

In the last few years, however, experiments at the HERA accelerator in Hamburg, Germany, have observed the strong interaction effects in slow motion, which could open a way to a precise understanding of the strong force.

...The appearance of such clear gluonic structures was unexpected; the experiments at HERA were not designed to study them. But the precision experiments required to measure the strong force can be designed and built with known technology. So two large groups of physicists - one concentrated around the Brookhaven and Jefferson National Laboratories in the United States, and the other around CERN in Geneva - are proposing to restart the investigation of electron-proton interactions.

The study of these interactions should provide a precise understanding of the strong force....A precise understanding of the strong force could be just as important, opening new ways to use nuclear-energy resources while solving the problems of safety and nuclear waste. _AlJazeera

Humans are slightly advanced monkeys, swinging from meager knowledge trees, flinging gobs of shite at each other and hooting into the night. It's going to take some time, discipline, and work to move forward.



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