Fundamental interaction

The most basic type of physical interaction (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, weak)
An overview of the various families of elementary and composite particles, and the theories describing their interactions. Fermions are on the left, and Bosons are on the right.

The interaction of any pair of fermions in perturbation theory can then be modelled thus:

Two fermions go in → interaction by boson exchange → Two changed fermions go out.

Both magnitude ("relative strength") and "range" of the associated potential, as given in the table, are meaningful only within a rather complex theoretical framework. The table below lists properties of a conceptual scheme that remains the subject of ongoing research.

Even though electromagnetism is far stronger than gravitation, electrostatic attraction is not relevant for large celestial bodies, such as planets, stars, and galaxies, simply because such bodies contain equal numbers of protons and electrons and so have a net electric charge of zero. Nothing "cancels" gravity, since it is only attractive, unlike electric forces which can be attractive or repulsive. On the other hand, all objects having mass are subject to the gravitational force, which only attracts. Therefore, only gravitation matters on the large-scale structure of the universe.

Although general relativity has been experimentally confirmed (at least for weak fields, i.e. not black holes) on all but the smallest scales, there are Alternatives to general relativity. These theories must reduce to general relativity in some limit, and the focus of observational work is to establish limits on what deviations from general relativity are possible.

of total electron charge. Thus, if we place two such jugs a meter apart, the electrons in one of the jugs repel those in the other jug with a force of

This force is many times larger than the weight of the planet Earth. The atomic nuclei in one jug also repel those in the other with the same force. However, these repulsive forces are canceled by the attraction of the electrons in jug A with the nuclei in jug B and the attraction of the nuclei in jug A with the electrons in jug B, resulting in no net force. Electromagnetic forces are tremendously stronger than gravity but cancel out so that for large bodies gravity dominates.

While each of these approaches offered insights, no approach led directly to a fundamental theory.

QCD is a theory of fractionally charged quarks interacting by means of 8 bosonic particles called gluons. The gluons also interact with each other, not just with the quarks, and at long distances the lines of force collimate into strings, loosely modeled by a linear potential, a constant attractive force. In this way, the mathematical theory of QCD not only explains how quarks interact over short distances but also the string-like behavior, discovered by Chew and Frautschi, which they manifest over longer distances.

Numerous theoretical efforts have been made to systematize the existing four fundamental interactions on the model of electroweak unification.