In theoretical physics, quantum chromodynamics (QCD) is the theory of the strong interaction between quarks and gluons, the fundamental particles that make up composite hadrons such as the proton, neutron, and pion. QCD is a type of quantum field theory called non-abelian gauge theory, with symmetry group SU(3). The QCD analog of electric charge is a property called color. Gluons are the force carrier of the theory, like photons are for the electromagnetic force in quantum electrodynamics.

QCD is an important part of the Standard Model of particle physics and exhibits two main properties:

1. Color confinement. This is a consequence of the constant force between two color charges as they are separated: In order to increase the separation between two quarks within a hadron, ever-increasing amounts of energy are required. Eventually, this energy becomes so great as to spontaneously produce a quark-antiquark pair, turning the initial hadron into a pair of hadrons instead of producing an isolated color charge. Although analytically unproven, color confinement is well established from lattice QCD calculations and decades of experiments.

2. Asymptotic freedom, a steady reduction in the strength of interactions between quarks and gluons as the energy scale of those interactions increases (and the corresponding length scale decreases). The asymptotic freedom of QCD was discovered in 1973 by David Gross and Frank Wilczek, and independently by David Politzer in the same year.

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