Same electric charges always repel each other, without exception. Opposite charges always attract.

An atomic nucleus with multiple positive charges must therefore generate tremendous forces to blow it apart. But many atomic nuclei are stable and can survive for decades or even billions of years without blowing apart.

Therefore there must be a more-powerful attractive force that holds them together in opposition to this repulsion.

This logic is ironclad and there cannot be any other way to look at it. The nature of this force was theorized to come from meson exchange. Then there were theories that attribute it to something separate from electric charge. It became convenient to imagine eight different color charges, and many complications were built which allow the theory to fit a great deal of experimental data. There is no possible alternative approach.

Or is there? Could there be another way to hold a nucleus together, that would involve different starting assumptions, that has not yet been disproven? Have there been other approaches which have been disproven?

Here's the sort of thing I'd be interested in

I make no claim that any model along these lines would work, but I could imagine that something vaguely like this might work.

Imagine that sometimes when a neutron and a proton are very close, they behave like two protons with a negative charge halfway between them. Then both of them are attracted to the negative charge four times as much as either of them is repelled by the other. So there is reason for deuterium to stay together.

Imagine that an alpha particle consists of four positive charges and two negative charges. The positive charges could form a square, with the negative charges above and below the center of the square. At some perpendicular distance for the negative charges, all six would be attracted more than repelled.

Each alpha particle might bind to other alpha particles -- a positive charge from one might be close to a negative charge from another. They might build like crystals.

A low-energy nucleus might be very much like an ionic crystal, and each component would have characteristic vibrations. Given higher energy inputs, a nucleus might split along cleavage planes, or start to "melt".

It would be interesting to do without the theorized strong force. But we would still need something more than simple electric charge. Large crystals depend on atoms to have excluded volume. Their attractive forces can't simply pull them together into a point. Protons would need a way to keep them from overlapping even when the forces that pull them together are always stronger than their charge repulsion.


electromagnetic or gravitational spin might create strong force

Pairs of spinning charges create standing waves that hold them together

Color theory fits the known data so it is correct

Gluon theory proves that nucleons cannot ever form crystal structures

Pomerons, string theory

The Bottom Line

Again, I do not claim that any model along these lines could fit the observed data about atomic nuclei. Nor do I claim that it can't. I have not noticed any alternative to the theoretical strong force that's easier to understand, and I want to hear about any alternatives.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem with your model is that contradicts quantum laws. You seem to assume that particles, at this scale and in a bound state, have a defined position and behave like little balls with attractive or repulsive forces between them. Even in the low energy regime (where you can ignore the inner structure of the nucleons), this isn't compatible with observation. Do you have experimental facts and/or a predictive theory to back up your model? At least one aspect that works better than the recognized theory of strong interaction? $\endgroup$
    – Miyase
    Jun 15, 2022 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Quantum theory is clearly correct, and the only possible correct theory. So any idea which is not quantum theory must be wrong. However, sometimes wrong ideas are useful. A wrong idea which inspires an interesting testable hypothesis has value. I don't claim that my model (which I have spent a few hours on) has any particular value. But I am interested in alternatives to the strong force. A workable alternative would lead to a modified quantum theory which might be simpler or otherwise easier to use. $\endgroup$
    – J Thomas
    Jun 17, 2022 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ It's quite a but simplistic to say "quantum theory is the only possible theory". It's opinion-based and unscientific. What counts is that it's backed up by facts and mathematically predictive. That's the bare minimum for a theory. Remember that this site is about mainstream physics only (see the help page). $\endgroup$
    – Miyase
    Jun 17, 2022 at 7:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Have you never thought that the electron and proton in the atom might lose some of their charge? Are the charges of the subatomic particles, which we have measured as constant in the free state, also so in the atomically bound state. Where then do the photons come from that are emitted when the proton and electron approach each other? Photons have a magnetic and an electric field component; and electron and proton are charges and magnetic dipoles at the same time. Weakening these fields by emitting EM radiation does not seem to be a bad alternative to the strong force. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2022 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! That's an innovative idea. I'm not clear that the charges themselves should weaken when they emit a photon, but they might somehow weaken their repulsion when they get close. Except when you shoot an alpha particle at an atomic nucleus, doesn't it bounce off as if the charges repel? Maybe it takes something special to weaken the repulsion. Maybe we can call whatever special thing it is that weakens the repulsion, "the strong force". $\endgroup$
    – J Thomas
    Jul 2, 2022 at 4:32

1 Answer 1


Sadly, the universe is under no obligation to be understandable to the humans who happen to inhabit it. This means for nonexperts like you and me, there is no way to grasp the dynamics of the strong force intuitively and on our own. The best we can do is to rely on the experts here to put the hay down close enough to the ground where the horses like us can get at it.

It is possible, of course, for nonexperts to invent their own models of the strong force as you are attempting to do, but since such models are nonmathematical, there is no way they can help anyone make sense of things like scattering cross-sections, mean lifetimes, energy conservation, and so on. And that means that the experts in the field, who have spent their careers working on these problems, are not under any obligation to take those models or the people proposing them seriously.

Bear in mind that while the particle accelerator data on what's inside a proton and what holds it together was accumulating in the late 1960's, there was an army of physicists proliferating their own unique models based on that data. As more and more data came in, the number of models which could successfully account for that data (and make testable predictions about what the next batch of data would look like) grew smaller and smaller- like boiling the slag out of ore- until the quark picture (the remaining nugget of gold) was the only viable model left. So, your process of postulating alternative models and seeing where they take us has already happened some 50 years ago.

  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, there is no obligation for things to make sense. I imagine my simple idea might have been useful when the strong force was first being postulated. It might have been as viable as the strong force was then, and if the early data didn't somehow disprove it, the idea might have been adapted to meet new discoveries as they came in, as happened to the strong force concept. Now it's too late of course. The single existing theory has had hundreds of thousands of physicist-hours put into it, and no other approach can possibly get enough attention to compete. $\endgroup$
    – J Thomas
    Jun 16, 2022 at 2:46

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