Nuclear forces (also known as nuclear interactions or strong forces) are the forces that act between two or more nucleons. They bind protons and neutrons (“nucleons”) into atomic nuclei. The nuclear force is about 10 millions times stronger than the chemical binding that holds atoms together in molecules. This is the reason why nuclear reactors produce about a million times more energy per kilogram fuel as compared to chemical fuel like oil or coal. However, the range of the nuclear force is short, only a few femtometer (1 fm =10−15 m), beyond which it decreases rapidly. That is why, in spite of its enormous strength, we do not feel anything of this force on the atomic scale or in everyday life. The development of a proper theory of nuclear forces has occupied the minds of some of the brightest physicists for seven decades and has been one of the main topics of physics research in the 20th century. The original idea was that the force is caused by the exchange of particles lighter than nucleons known as mesons, and this idea gave rise to the birth of a new sub-field of modern physics, namely, (elementary) particle physics. The modern perception of the nuclear force is that it is a residual interaction (similar to the van der Waals force between neutral atoms) of the even stronger force between quarks, which is mediated by the exchange of gluons and holds the quarks together inside a nucleon.
Uploaded on Nov 22, 2010 Gravity, Weak, Electromagnetic and Strong. Created by Sal Khan.