In physics, fundamental interactions (sometimes called interactive forces) are the ways that the simplest particles in the universe interact with one another. An interaction is fundamental when it cannot be described in terms of other interactions.
The four known fundamental interactions, all of which are noncontact forces, are electromagnetism, strong interaction, weak interaction (also known as "strong" and "weak nuclear force") and gravitation. With the possible exception of gravitation, these interactions can usually be described, in a set of calculational approximation methods known as perturbation theory, as being mediated by the exchange of gauge bosons between particles. However, there are situations where perturbation theory does not adequately describe the observed phenomena, such as bound states and solitons.
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Overview
In the conceptual model of fundamental interactions, matter consists of fermions, which carry properties called charges and spin ±^{1}⁄_{2} (intrinsic angular momentum ±ħ/2, where ħ is the reduced Planck constant). They attract or repel each other by exchanging bosons.
The interaction of any pair of fermions in perturbation theory can then be modeled thus:
The exchange of bosons always carries energy and momentum between the fermions, thereby changing their speed and direction. The exchange may also transport a charge between the fermions, changing the charges of the fermions in the process (e.g. turn them from one type of fermion to another). Since bosons carry one unit of angular momentum, the fermion's spin direction will flip from +^{1}⁄_{2} to −^{1}⁄_{2} (or vice versa) during such an exchange (in units of the reduced Planck's constant).
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