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Grant advances quark-gluon plasma studies

Date:10/7/2010

Rice University's Bonner Nuclear Lab has won a $1.175 million grant that will support its research on high-density and hot nuclear matter.

Rice physicist Frank Geurts, who has spent his career looking for clues to the basic elements of the universe by smashing the nuclear contents of gold, lead and other heavy atoms, said the Department of Energy grant will facilitate his group's transition from constructing and commissioning a highly complex detector system to using that machinery to do basic research.

Much of the Bonner Lab's focus over the past two decades has been on the Solenoidal Tracker at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a particle accelerator for nuclear physics research at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.

A device known as STAR (short for Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC) has been taking data at Brookhaven since 1999. Rice designed and built essential components for STAR, which helps detect and study the subatomic particles released when heavy nuclei collide at nearly the speed of light.

In 2005, RHIC announced the breakthrough discovery of a quark-gluon plasma, a dense, high-energy state of matter believed to have existed in the first milliseconds after the Big Bang. Scientists referred to the very hot material created in the lab -- 150,000 times hotter than the sun's core -- as a "perfect liquid," one with practically no viscosity, or as little as quantum physics will allow. Such properties were quite a surprise, Geurts said, because original expectations were that this phase of matter would behave much more like a gas.

The main component of STAR, the time projection chamber (TPC), "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," said Geurts, assistant professor of physics and astronomy.

The roughly 14-foot-long, 13-foot-wide cylinder is a gas-filled chamber
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Contact: David Ruth
druth@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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