David J. Gross and the Strong Force

Resources with Additional Information

The 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to David Gross for “the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction".  ‘Gross, who obtained his PhD in physics in 1966, currently is a professor of physics and director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara. …

David Gross
Courtesy of UC Santa Barbara

[When on the faculty at Princeton University,] he and then-graduate student Frank Wilczek came up with a way to describe the "strong force" that governs interactions between protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom. He and Wilczek published their proposal simultaneously with H. David Politzer, a graduate student [at Harvard University] who independently came up with the same idea. …

The discovery of Gross, Wilczek and Politzer came out of an earlier breakthrough that described electromagnetism, the force that acts between charged particles, such as electrons and protons, and which governs all chemical interactions. That theory, called quantum electrodynamics (QED), won Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-itiro Tomonaga the physics Nobel in 1965.

QED is a way of describing electromagnetic interactions so that predictions can be made and numbers calculated to compare to experiment. Though based on approximations, QED nevertheless allows physicist to predict experimental results to within one part in 100 million. …

The new Nobelists found a way to extend the methods of QED to describe strong force interactions between the particles that make up protons and neutrons. These theoretical particles - they can never be observed - were dubbed quarks, and the particles that carry the strong force were called gluons. The theory that came out of these initial ideas is called chromodynamics because the quark attribute analogous to the electric charge of an electron or proton is color.’

– Edited excerpt from Cal Alum David Gross (PhD ’66) Shares Nobel Prize in Physics, University of California Berkeley

Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about David Gross, the strong force, asymptotic freedom, and strong interaction is available in electronic documents and on the Web.


Ultraviolet Behavior of Non-Abelian Gauge Theories; Physical Review Letters, Vol. 30, Issue 26; 1973

Asymptotically Free Gauge Theories I; DOE Technical Report; 1973

Hadronic Form Factors in Asymptotically Free Field Theories;  DOE Technical Report; 1974

Instantons and Massless Fermions in Two Dimensions;  DOE Technical Report; 1977

Some New/Old Approaches to QCD;  DOE Technical Report; 1992


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