Search for Saturation
Capturing the dynamic action of gluons within protons and nuclei will give scientists a way to test their understanding of these particles’ ephemeral properties. As gluons flit in and out of the vacuum, multiplying and recombining, scientists suspect they may reach a steady state of saturation called a “color glass condensate.” This unique form of nuclear matter gets its name from the “color” charges that mediate the interactions of the strong nuclear force, and the dense, glasslike walls these particles are thought to form in nuclei accelerated to nearly the speed of light, seemingly suspended by the effects of time dilation. Scientists will use the Electron-Ion Collider to search for definitive proof of whether this form of matter exists, and test the limits of gluons’ ability to expand beyond the bounds of a single proton/ neutron inside a nucleus. They’ll also explore the mechanism that keeps gluon growth in check, like a lid clamping down on an overflowing popcorn pot. Precisely measuring the strength of the gluon fields, which constitute the strongest fields found in nature, will tell us how gluons interact with each other and how they contribute to building the bulk of visible matter in the universe today.