A breakthrough particle accelerator could collide electrons with heavy ions or protons at nearly the speed of light to create rapid-fire, high-resolution “snapshots” of the force binding all visible matter.
Deep within the protons and neutrons of an atomic nucleus, powerful and poorly understood gluons flit in and out of existence. These fundamental particles carry the strong nuclear force, which acts as a kind of subatomic “glue,” binding quarks together. And since protons and neutrons make up most of the visible matter in the universe, this glue, in essence, is what holds together everything we see, from stardust to planets to people. But the behavior of this crucial, pervasive binding force is remarkably difficult to draw into focus. A new electron-ion collider could rise to the challenge, bending time and launching light-speed probes to unravel the mysteries of the glue.