Tue January 24, 2012 By: Avi Wadhwa

From where does the strong nuclear force which holds the protons together come from?

Expert Reply
Wed January 25, 2012

The nucleus of all atoms except hydrogen contains more than one proton, and each proton carries a positive charge. The protons must feel a repulsive force from the other neighboring protons. This is where the strong nuclear force comes in. The strong nuclear force is created between nucleons by the exchange of particles called mesons. This exchange can be likened to constantly hitting a ping-pong ball or a tennis ball back and forth between two people. As long as this meson exchange can happen, the strong force is able to hold the participating nucleons together. The nucleons must be extremely close together in order for this exchange to happen. The distance required is about the diameter of a proton or a neutron. If a proton or neutron can get closer than this distance to another nucleon, the exchange of mesons can occur, and the particles will stick to each other. If they can't get that close, the strong force is too weak to make them stick together, and other competing forces (usually the electromagnetic force) can influence the particles to move apart.

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