In his research, Snellings conducts experiments to break up groups of quarks—to figure out why and how they bind together to form regular matter via one of the four fundamental forces, the strong force.

To that end, he and his colleagues smash lead ions together at the Large Hadron Collider.

The entire plasma, which quickly congeals back into ordinary three-quark particles, is small enough to fit easily inside a virus.

So now the Utrecht University physicist ponders signals produced by different giant machines: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory and its European counterpart, Virgo, whose three detectors in the US and Italy listen for the ripples in spacetime produced when astronomical bodies collide.

In the gravitational waves produced by neutron stars, Snellings suspects he might find clues to the origins of quarks—and of the universe itself.

The ultra-compact cores of dead stars, neutron stars are astronomical in mass, packing a quantity of material about equal to the mass of the sun into a sphere with roughly the cross-sectional area of Chicago.

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