Particle physics research

Rodas to use JLab postdoc award to pursue light meson research – W&M News

Some particles are ordinary, like the protons and neutrons that make up the atomic nuclei of all the matter around us. They are stable under strong interactions and their fundamental properties are known.

But Arkaitz Rodas studies far more elusive and mysterious particles at the US Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. Specifically, the William & Mary postdoctoral research associate is characterizing a class of non-ordinary particles called light mesons.

“Most people don’t know about them, but they exist in nature,” he said.

As the recipient of the 2022 Jefferson Associates Postdoctoral Prize, Rodas will uncover the properties of these lesser-known particles, which will improve our understanding of how matter stays together.

Unstable particles with uncertain properties

Like protons and neutrons, light mesons are made up of smaller particles called quarks. However, instead of having three quarks each like a proton or a neutron, a light meson has only two: a quark and an antiquark.

Many of these mesons are unstable and have a whole host of properties different from those of protons and neutrons. And some of them cannot be understood with simple quark models.

“For many years, simplistic model images have emerged trying to gather information about these particles,” Rodas said. “However, none of them are suitable for high precision and therefore many of these non-ordinary mesons have remained controversial. Very little is known about their structure.

Rodas is a theorist, so for his award-winning project, “Understanding Exotic Mesons from Quantum Chromodynamics,” he will characterize light mesons using computational mathematical tools.

“Every day I dabble a little in math and I spend a lot of time with supercomputers,” he said.

He needs to use supercomputers because he will be working with a complex theory called lattice quantum chromodynamics (lattice QCD). This theory will allow him to extract information on the fundamental properties of these light mesons, and perhaps even to offer a window on their internal structure. Calculations from network QCD are so complicated that they require powerful computers.

A better understanding of the properties of light mesons will shed light on the strong interaction, the fundamental force that binds quarks together to form the protons and neutrons present in the center of atoms.

“We want to know how we go from these tiny little quarks to the matter that creates us,” Rodas said. “It’s a very difficult question. We, the experimentalists and theorists affiliated with the Jefferson Lab, are therefore working to bridge the gap between the two.

Since the strong interaction also binds the quark couplets that make up light mesons, a better understanding of the properties of light mesons will improve understanding of how the strong interaction works and how it allows quarks to form at the both ordinary and exotic matter.

“The ultimate goal is that we can resolve these strong interactions,” Rodas said.

Rodas has been applying mathematical techniques to the study of light mesons since he began his PhD at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain. During his graduate studies, in 2018, he came to Jefferson Lab for the first time for an internship.

He returned in 2019, when he started as a postdoc at William & Mary and a user scientist at Jefferson Lab. His adviser and principal collaborator is Jozef Dudek, a joint-appointed scientist at Jefferson Lab and associate professor of physics at William & Mary.

After this postdoctoral position, Rodas plans to stay in academia.

“I really want to be a researcher for the rest of my life,” he said.

The award allows for in-person collaboration

The Jefferson Lab User Organization (JLUO) Board of Trustees has awarded the JSA Postdoctoral Award since 2008. The group represents scientists who come to the Jefferson Lab to conduct research with its unique facilities.

“Each year, the JLUO Board of Directors is pleased to review excellent scientific projects submitted by postdoctoral researchers. They expand the wide range of physics studied at the Jefferson Lab. The competition is very strong and we are always impressed by the high quality work of our young colleagues,” said JLUO President Carlos Munoz-Camacho. “This year, Arkaitz Rodas was the recipient of the JSA Postdoc Award and we sincerely congratulate him for his outstanding contributions. We look forward to the conference Arkaitz plans to organize with the amount of the grant he received. This will be a great opportunity to bring the community together and discuss recent progress in the field, as well as its future direction.

The board judges each applicant based on their accomplishments in physics, the proposed use of the research grant, and the likelihood of further accomplishments in areas of Jefferson Lab research.

“It makes me very happy to win this award,” Rodas said. “Considering that the competition is exceptional, this award is a reinforcement and gives you additional motivation. It really makes you work at the highest of your standards because you know you’re backed by the lab. »

The grant is funded by the Jefferson Science Associates Initiatives Fund program, which JSA provides to support programs, initiatives, and activities that foster scientific awareness and promote the scientific, educational, and technological missions of Jefferson Lab and benefit the user community. from the laboratory.

Rodas plans to use the $10,000 prize to organize a conference at Jefferson Lab that will bring together experimentalists and theorists to focus on the study of light mesons and other exotic particles. Because COVID has hampered travel for the past two years, Rodas believes an in-person conference is now planned.

“Experimenters and theorists need to work closely together, so I thought it would be a good idea to organize a small conference where we can discuss the future of our analyses,” he said.

He hopes to hold this conference in the spring of 2023. He hopes to be able to share his own recent research findings at the conference.

“When you come up with a new set of ideas, there’s always excitement,” he said. “But for the first few months, I wondered if my ideas would eventually produce final results or if we would be stuck at some point. Luckily, they seem to be doing pretty well, and I’m very excited about that.

Chris Patrick, Jefferson Lab Communications Office