Enlarge / The STAR detector, with a bunch of physicists thrown in for scale. (credit: Brookhaven National Lab)

Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory's RHIC particle accelerator have determined that an exotic form of matter produced in their collisions is the most rapidly spinning material ever detected. The material is called a quark-gluon plasma, and it provides us an opportunity to study the state that all matter was in immediately after the Big Bang.

The fact that the quark-gluon plasma spins provides us with an opportunity to study some theoretical ideas about the behavior of the strong force, one of the fundamental forces of nature that's responsible for holding together the matter that we see around us.

The force is strong in these collisions

Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) and CERN's Large Hadron Collider are the only facilities that can reach energies high enough to produce a quark-gluon plasma. Quarks are the building blocks of the heavier components of atoms; both protons and neutrons consist of three quarks bundled together. Gluons are the particles that hold them together in that bundle. Their interactions are governed by the strong force, and the rules of those interactions are described by a theory called quantum chromodynamics (often simply called QCD).

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