As we know the world of nuclear physics is so small. ordinary method is not applicable to “see” this world.
we have no choice but just bombard the nucleus with electrons, protons, neutrons, etc… if we are Alice, who become much bigger then our earth and touch the moon easily. How do we understand human world? we simply pick a human, hitting on each other, see what is going on, what is the result. If we want to know how elevator work, we put a human, let him ride on it and see the result. but sometime, we will accidentally, put a car in elevator.
so, Most nuclear experiment is SCATTERING EXPERIMENT.
and the machine to conduce this kind of experiment is called Accelerator.
there is a famous quote i forget where it come from:
nuclear (particle) physics is like we figure out how a watch work by broken it and see the fragments.
The picture is really like this. we shoot particles into nucleus, and see what was knot out. how the incident particle changed. we can extract the energy change, the scatter angle, the polarization. basically are these 3 things. and using these 3 data, we construct the world of nucleus. Is it amazing???
There are some fundamental limits of the scattering experiment.
1) since the size of the nucleus is very small, the chance of hitting it is very small for 1 particle to hit another particle. thus, we use many particles hit many particles. but even doing so, only a tiny fraction of reaction takes place. most of them just pass by, say a hello. Thus, we have to create a high density particle beam, and target.
2) the particle should be moving very fast, almost same as speed of light, in order to carry enough energy to go inside the nucleus. because there is a barrier form the forces. the nucleus is something like a fortress, walled by forces. (sound like a star wars movie) another reason is, the larger the energy, the shortest distance we can probe. According to De Broglie, every particle can be treated as wave with wavelength is inversely proportional to the momentum. Thus, a faster particle has larger momentum and shorter wavelength. so, can see a smaller world. [ the De Broglie’s wavelength has some debt on weather it is a physical wave or probability amplitude, this was solved by Dirac and proved by experiment that, it means both. for more info, see discussion on “interpolation on quantum wave function” ]
This is a general property of wave. a Radio wave can easy pass though us because we are small compare to the wavelength, which is about 5 to 10 meters long. but red light can “see” us, or we can block red light, because we are much bigger. the idea is, if we want to see the detail, you have to use a smaller ruler.
3) since we are using the building block to hit another building block in investigation. they are similar size. imagine a scenario that you want to measure to speed of a car, and you use another car to hit on it, and see the bounded back car to find out the original speed. you can see, the cars hit each other and changed the original speed, and there is no way to accurate to measure to speed! same things happen in nuclear physics. the scatter particle will change to state of target, that create an uncertainty. This was formulated by Heisenberg and now called the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. which state that
change of position X change of momentum ≥ Planck’s constant