Particle physics laboratory

Edwards Accelerator Laboratory turns 50 and continues to deliver surprising results


Thousands of Ohio University students walk past the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory every day, without noticing the internationally renowned research center located on the hillside.

His 50th birthday party in September finds the accelerator anything but the hill. In fact, its ion beams and experimental equipment mean it is ideally placed to help answer some very important questions about understanding the universe.

Inside the nondescript brick building are undergraduates from the Accelerator Lab course, doctoral students conducting experiments, or visiting researchers seeking to better understand nuclear stock or exploding stars.

How to participate

The accelerator’s golden anniversary celebration will take place on September 24-25 at the Athens campus. Sessions can also be viewed virtually; links will be provided closer to the event. To participate or receive these links, please register on 50 years of discoveries at the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the laboratory by offering a gift to support research, please visit the crowdfunding page.

swinger beam
The swinger beam (in the foreground) with the tandem accelerator (orange in the background).

Watch the events – live or later – on the Edwards Accelerator YouTube playlist.

Three new experiences are based on a history of discoveries

The first research in the laboratory, named after John E. Edwards, professor of physics from 1932 to 1972, made it possible to map the difference between neutron-neutron and neutron-proton interactions inside the nucleus.

“In recent years, research on the Edwards accelerator has shown that the statistical structure of nuclei is inconsistent with theoretical expectations, which may change our understanding of how elements form in the universe,” said Dr Zach Meisel, laboratory director and associate professor of physics. “In one of our most recent measurements, we found that a nuclear reaction-based background that was supposed to scramble dark matter research in the universe has been significantly overestimated so far.”

Zach Meisel tunnel visit
Dr. Zach Meisel gives a tour of the tunnel in flight time.

The Edwards Accelerator Laboratory may be 50 years old, but it is constantly evolving and adopting the latest technology.

“The most recent addition is a $ 250,000 state-of-the-art ion source that OHIO researchers use to measure nuclear reactions that synthesize elements in stars and play an important role in nuclear applications,” said Dr Julie Roche, professor and director of the OHIO Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (INPP).

The Edwards Accelerator Laboratory is managed by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and is also part of the INPP.

“We are currently building three new experimental setups designed to provide new capabilities,” said Dr Carl Brune, a physics professor who has performed numerous laboratory measurements over the past 20 years. “These will allow the first measurement of a nuclear reaction that may have produced most of the carbon produced during the Big Bang, a precise characterization of nuclear reactions that should have an impact on the operation of the next molten salt nuclear reactors. generation that could be used for power generation. , and a unique approach to study nuclear reactions present in explosive astrophysical environments.

The revolutionary Edwards accelerator
The 1993 Edwards Accelerator expansion opened, which would add a boardroom, undergraduate lab, electronics store, and office space.

Professors who are currently conducting research in the lab include Drs. Brune and Meisel, David ingram, Thomas massey, and Alexander Voinov, as well as distinguished professor emeritus Steven grimes. Brune and Meisel specialize in nuclear astrophysics. Ingram specializes in the analysis of materials by ion beams. Massey specializes in neutron physics, and Voinov and Grimes specialize in the statistical structure of nuclei.

What Makes The Ohio University Accelerator Unique?

Spoiler Alert: This is not Star Trek’s “red alert” siren that sounds when the beam is on. It’s not just for fun – the piercing sound is one of the security measures that contributed to an “interstellar” safety record at the facility.

“The Edwards Accelerator Lab has played a key role because of its flexibility,” said Ingram, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, which conducts experiments at the Edwards Accelerator. “We are often able to go from idea to experimentation in a matter of months, allowing us to keep up with the most recent research questions.”

The flexibility also means that the 4.5 million volt tandem accelerator with two ion sources, capable of delivering beams from almost any element, can direct the beam to a multitude of rooms equipped for different measurements – for example neutron bunches with a temporal resolution of the order of a nanosecond, stations for counting neutrons and precision charged particles and equipment adapted to characterize thin materials.

“The beam exchanging and associated neutron time-of-flight tunnel make the laboratory ideally suited to perform measurements in which neutrons are scattered from nuclei. As such, the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory is the premier facility in North America for commissioning neutron detectors and characterizing the response of nuclei undergoing high neutron flux environments, ”said Meisel.

Stelios Nikas
Visiting researcher Stelios Nikas of Central Michigan University in the flight time chamber.

The Accelerator is one of the world’s premier laboratories for neutron beams, attracting visiting researchers from North America and Europe. In the past decade alone, the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory has hosted external researchers from more than 15 institutions in the United States and Europe who have traveled to Athens to conduct research using the unique capabilities of the laboratory.

“In a recent partnership with Texas A&M University, this capability allowed us to take the first measurements of a sequence of exotic reactions believed to improve carbon production in exploding stars. In collaboration with Central Michigan University, we have constrained a key reaction for the cosmic production of the isotope Potassium-40, the radioactive decay of which provides the internal heat of exoplanets, ”said Brune.

“We have a long-standing relationship with Lawrence Livermore National Lab focused on nuclear applications and the study of reactions that help understand the evolution of the nuclear stock. And we performed several measurements in conjunction with the Air Force Institute of Technology and, separately, the University of Pennsylvania mimicking space radiation to assess the performance of potential satellite components, ”he added.

Andrea Richard and Kristyn Brandenburg
Andrea Richard and Kristyn Brandenburg at the Edwards Accelerator Lab console.

Undergraduate laboratory students and doctoral graduates from all over the world

Ohio University students – graduate, undergraduate, and even freshman – actually built and rebuilt detectors, learned how to operate the accelerator, and spent countless hours examining the data produced during the process. experiences.

More than three dozen alumni have earned doctorates in physics based on research conducted at the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory.

And OHIO is one of five universities across the country where students use an accelerator as part of a nuclear physics lab course. That works out to about two dozen, mostly undergraduate, students each year.

Graduate Students Edwards Accelerator
Roger Finlay, Jacobo Rapaport, and Steve Grimes, seated atop the newly installed magnetic quadrupole triplet spectrometer in the Large Target Room in the spring of 1979. Senior Honors Tutorial College student Jerry Weber stands in the foreground, asking for faculty recommendation letters to the doctoral school.

“One of the strengths of the laboratory has always been the design and construction of specialized experimental equipment, including hardware, electricity and computers. These developments are made possible by our location on campus, our excellent staff technical and other departmental resources such as our machine shop. The lab provides an excellent environment for undergraduate and graduate students to learn all facets of experimental physics, including design, fabrication, data taking and analysis. The laboratory infrastructure has also supported the development of equipment for several experiments that were performed in other laboratories ”, it reads the story of the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory.

Engineers Don Carter and Greg Leblanc also provide key technical expertise that is essential to the laboratory’s research efforts.

PhD students have gone on to a variety of careers, from academia to industry to US national laboratories. Cody Parker (Ph.D. ’16), who studied nuclear astrophysics of the early universe, is now a member of the scientific staff at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University. Remi Adekola (Ph.D. ’09), who has studied nuclear reactions causing explosions on white dwarf stars, is a long-time staff member of Canberra Industries, one of the world’s leading nuclear instrumentation companies. . Paul Koehler (Ph.D. ’84), who studied the structure of short-lived oxygen species, is a senior instrumentation scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Neutron Science Center.

Cockroft Walton
Nuclear physics at Ohio University began in 1962 with the hiring of Professor Roger Finlay. The original research program used a small 150 kV Cockroft-Walton accelerator to generate neutrons that was located in a former car garage.

Most of the funding for the accelerator and laboratory research comes from federal grants. A $ 1 million grant from the United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1967 funded the 4.5 MV tandem accelerator, and the first experiments began in the lab in 1971. The new lab was established. an upgrade of the small 150 kV Cockroft-Walton accelerator to generate neutrons. which was in an old car garage.

“We are still working on improvements in the lab. We recently installed a new ion beam source and commissioned a new neutron detector, the combination of which improves our understanding of the combustion of helium in space.” , said Meisel. “The ion source was funded with a major research instrumentation award of $ 250,000 from the National Science Foundation. The neutron detector was funded through a $ 600,000 grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Construction of the Edwards accelerator
Edwards Accelerator Laboratory construction site circa 1966.