Peeking Deeper into Quark-Gluon Plasma

By on 8 Oct 2010, 07:25 GMT

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it awarded a $1.175 million grant to the Bonner Nuclear Laboratory, for conducting research into hot, high-density nuclear matter.

The facility, which is located at, and is operated by the Rice University, conducts investigations into the nature of the smallest particles making up the Universe, and has been doing so for decades.

Physics experts here are led by Rice physicist Frank Geurts, who has spent more than two decades trying to figure out the nature of the components making up the world as we know it.

Geurts' group is currently in a process of transition from constructing and commissioning a new detector system to using it for basic research, and the new grant comes in handy for making that a reality, the expert says.

The Bonner Lab has over the last 20 years focused primarily on analyzing data collected by experts at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC).

This is a particle accelerator that is located in New York, at the DOE Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). It also features a detector called STAR, which stands for the Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC.

The detector has been in operations at the BNL for the better part of 11 years, and it has been keeping an eye on the results of collisions happening between heavy atoms, such as gold and lead.

Components of the instrument itself were developed and built at the Rice University, and so experts here are participating in studying the subatomic results of the collisions taking place at RHIC.

It was at this facility that the dense, high-energy state of matter called quark-gluon plasma (QGP) was discovered, some five years ago.

According to theories in astrophysics, this state of matter may have filled the Universe in the first fractions of fractions of a second after the Big Bang inflated it into being.

The time projection chamber (TPC) is one of the main components of the STAR detector, and it has been extensively use to study this nearly perfect liquid.

The instrument “gives us a 3-D 80-megapixel picture for every collision, and that allows us to know the charge of the particles, the momentum of the particles and to some degree the identity of those particles,” Geurts explains.

The expert, who is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, says that QGP is an estimated 150,000 times hotter than the Sun's core. The stuff has as little viscosity as quantum physics will allow.

The new detector that Rice University wants to operate is accurate to a 10th of a billionth of a second, scientists say, which is bound to make identifying new subatomic particles easier than ever.

“People are very excited about this because we will be able to identify about 96 percent of the particles that come out of collisions,” the team leader says.

“This allows us to peek deeper into the hot and dense matter,” concludes Geurts, who has worked at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) too.

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A view of one of the first full-energy collisions between gold ions at BNL's RHIC, as captured by the Solenoidal Tracker At RHIC (STAR) detector
   A view of one of the first full-energy collisions between gold ions at BNL's RHIC, as captured by the Solenoidal Tracker At RHIC (STAR) detector