Particle physics research

Stony Brook University, New York

Raju Venugopalan

The Simons Foundation has announced a new research collaboration to explore the “glue” that holds the visible matter of the universe together.

A team of thirteen principal investigators, led by Igor Klebanov of Princeton University and including Raju Venugopalan, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University, will delve into the details of quantum chromodynamics ( QCD), the theory that describes the interactions between the most fundamental building blocks of visible matter.

“The collaboration will bring together three communities of theorists specializing in the study of experimental data, computation, and analytical approaches to QCD,” said Venugopalan, who is also a senior physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory ( DOE). “The big motivation is to bring these communities together to solve a problem that is at the heart of all matter,” namely how the strong nuclear force keeps fundamental particles called quarks and gluons confined within the protons and neutrons that make up atomic nuclei.

“By understanding confinement, we can fundamentally learn how hadrons – protons, neutrons and other composite particles made up of quarks and gluons – are put together,” Venugopalan said.

Theorists will benefit from the proximity to researchers at – and the data generated by – the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility for Nuclear Physics Research located at Brookhaven Lab. Research at RHIC focuses on quarks and gluons.

Experiments at RHIC crush ions (the nuclei of atoms) moving at close to the speed of light. RHIC’s high-energy heavy ion collisions recreate conditions last seen in the early universe, essentially dissolving the boundaries of individual protons and neutrons so that quarks and gluons are no longer confined within these blocks of individual nuclear construction. By tracking the variety of particles that emerge from the “quark-gluon plasma” (QGP) created in these collisions, RHIC detectors collect data on the behavior of quarks and gluons.

Nuclear theorists like Venugopalan are also studying the QGP created in higher energy heavy ion collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe. They use QCD equations to predict and interpret what the RHIC and LHC experiments might reveal. Known as “phenomenologists” for their study of experimental phenomena, they form one arm of the new collaboration.

Over the next decade, they will also use data from the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC), a facility that will be built on the backbone of RHIC. The EIC will collide electrons with ions, essentially using the electron beams to “see” inside protons, neutrons and nuclei.

“The electron-ion collider will be the brightest, most intense ‘femtoscope’ to shine on the structure of matter,” Venugopalan said, referring to its ability to capture detail at scales much smaller than a femtometer – a millionth one billionth of a meter. With the future EIC, scientists will take ‘snapshots’ of quarks and gluons and study their interactions within the matter that makes up our world today.

Read the full story on the Brookhaven National Laboratory website.

Read the story “SBU, BNL physicist in the Simons Foundation collaboration to explore the building blocks of matter” on SBU News