If you have been paying attention to the modern research being carried out in particle physics, you may have heard the term ‘exotic matter’ or ‘exotic state’ being mentioned. The top research institutions in the game, Fermilab and CERN, have both made discoveries in recent years alluding to this mysterious new form of matter. But what exactly does it mean for matter to exist in an exotic state? And could these new discoveries lead us to a whole new understanding of our universe and the matter we see around us?

Exotic states of matter are states which do not fit into the traditional quark model, in which quarks are confined in bound states called hadrons. Quarks interact under the strong force which is carried by gauge bosons called gluons. In this model, quarks can combine to form mesons (quark-antiquark pair) or baryons (three quarks or three antiquarks). Any state which does not fit into this model can be called exotic.

Standard Model of Elementary Particles [1]

Three proposed types of exotic matter matter are:

tetraquarks/pentaquark states: these are states which contain four or five quarks as opposed to the usual two or three. There are several theories for the structure of such states, such as the molecular picture in which hadrons are bound together by weaker colour neutral strong forces to form ‘molecules’. Another theory is called the hadroquarkonium picture, which proposes that lighter quarks form a quantum mechanical cloud around a heavy quark core, similar to the model of the atom.

hybrid meson: gluons, which are the gauge bosons that carry the strong force, are present in all hadrons. In hybrid mesons, however, the gluonic element of the particle, i.e. the gluonic field is excited and therefore contributes to the valence structure of the particle.

glueballs: Perhaps the most novel form of exotic matter proposed is called a glueball. These states contain no valence quarks at all – they are simply entirely made up of gluons interacting under the strong force.

Investigations into exotic matter are providing promising new results that may lead significant changes in how we model our world. Particle physicists and cosmologists are particularly interested in understanding dark matter and dark energy which make up most of our universe, but which we have yet to even begin to understand. Maybe, through understanding exotic matter we can hope to answer some of these questions!




[1] Miss MJ, C. (2019, September). Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Standard_Model_of_Elementary_Particles.svg


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