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    • 2019-01-04 08:05:11
    • Article ID: 706008

    Startup Time for Ion Collisions Exploring the Phases of Nuclear Matter

    19th year of operations at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider will continue search for critical point in transition from protons and neutrons to quark-gluon plasma.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) is actually two accelerators in one. Beams of ions travel around its 2.4-mile-circumference rings in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light, coming into collision at points where the rings cross.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      The STAR collaboration's exploration of the "nuclear phase diagram" so far shows signs of a sharp border—a first-order phase transition—between the hadrons that make up ordinary atomic nuclei and the quark-gluon plasma (QGP) of the early universe when the QGP is produced at relatively low energies/temperatures. The data may also suggest a possible critical point, where the type of transition changes from the abrupt, first-order kind to a continuous crossover at higher energies. New data collected during this year's run will add details to this map of nuclear matter's phases.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      RHIC's STAR detector tracks the thousands of particles produced by each ion collision. It weighs 1,200 tons and is as large as a house.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      A schematic of low-energy electron cooling at RHIC, from right: 1) a section of the existing accelerator that houses the beam pipe carrying heavy ion beams in opposite directions; 2) the direct current (DC) electron gun and other components that will produce and accelerate the bright beams of electrons; 3) the line that will transport and inject cool electrons into the ion beams; and 4) the cooling sections where ions will mix and scatter with electrons, giving up some of their heat, thus leaving the ion beam cooler and more tightly packed.

    UPTON, NY—January 2 marked the startup of the 19th year of physics operations at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility for nuclear physics research at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Physicists will conduct a series of experiments to explore innovative beam-cooling technologies and further map out the conditions created by collisions at various energies. The ultimate goal of nuclear physics is to fully understand the behavior of nuclear matter—the protons and neutrons that make up atomic nuclei and those particles’ constituent building blocks, known as quarks and gluons.

    Many earlier experiments colliding gold ions at different energies at RHIC have provided evidence that energetic collisions create extreme temperatures (trillions of degrees Celsius). These collisions liberate quarks and gluons from their confinement with individual protons and neutrons, creating a hot soup of quarks and gluons that mimics what the early universe looked like before protons, neutrons, or atoms ever formed.

    “The main goal of this run is to turn the collision energy down to explore the low-energy part of the nuclear phase diagram to help pin down the conditions needed to create this quark-gluon plasma,” said Daniel Cebra, a collaborator on the STAR experiment at RHIC. Cebra is taking a sabbatical leave from his position as a professor at the University of California, Davis, to be at Brookhaven to help coordinate the experiments this year.

    STAR is essentially a house-sized digital camera with many different detector systems for tracking the particles created in collisions. Nuclear physicists analyze the mix of particles and characteristics such as their energies and trajectories to learn about the conditions created when ions collide.

    By colliding gold ions at various low energies, including collisions where one beam of gold ions smashes into a fixed target instead of a counter-circulating beam, RHIC physicists will be looking for signs of a so-called “critical point.” This point marks a spot on the nuclear phase diagram—a map of the phases of quarks and gluons under different conditions—where the transition from ordinary matter to free quarks and gluons switches from a smooth one to a sudden phase shift, where both states of matter can coexist.

    STAR gets a wider view

    STAR will have new components in place that will increase its ability to capture the action in these collisions. These include new inner sectors of the Time Projection Chamber (TPC)—the gas-filled chamber particles traverse from their point of origin in the quark-gluon plasma to the sensitive electronics that line the inner and outer walls of a large cylindrical magnet. There will also be a “time of flight” (ToF) wall placed on one of the STAR endcaps, behind the new sectors.

    “The main purpose of these is to enhance STAR's sensitivity to signatures of the critical point by increasing the acceptance of STAR—essentially the field of view captured in the pictures of the collisions—by about 50 percent,” said James Dunlop, Associate Chair for Nuclear Physics in Brookhaven Lab’s Physics Department.

    “Both of these components have large international contributions,” Dunlop noted. “A large part of the construction of the iTPC sectors was done by STAR’s collaborating institutions in China. The endcap ToF is a prototype of a detector being built for an experiment called Compressed Baryonic Matter (CBM) at the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Germany. The early tests at RHIC will allow CBM to see how well the detector components behave in realistic conditions before it is installed at FAIR while providing both collaborations with necessary equipment for a mutual-benefit physics program,” he said.

    Tests of electron cooling

    Before the collision experiments begin in mid-February, RHIC physicists will be testing a new component of the accelerator designed to maximize collision rates at low energies.

    “RHIC operation at low energies faces multiple challenges, as we know from past experience,” said Chuyu Liu, the RHIC Run Coordinator for Run 19. “The most difficult one is that the tightly bunched ions tend to heat up and spread out as they circulate in the accelerator rings.”

    That makes it less likely that an ion in one beam will strike an ion in the other.

    To counteract this heating/spreading, accelerator physicists at RHIC have added a beamline that brings accelerated “cool” electrons into a section of each RHIC ring to extract heat from the circulating ions. This is very similar to the way the liquid running through your home refrigerator extracts heat to keep your food cool. But instead of chilled ice cream or cold cuts, the result is more tightly packed ion bunches that should result in more collisions when the counter-circulating beams cross.

    Last year, a team led by Alexei Fedotov demonstrated that the electron beam has the basic properties needed for cooling. After a number of upgrades to increase the beam quality and stability further, this year’s goal is to demonstrate that the electron beam can actually cool the gold-ion beam. The aim is to finish fine-tuning the technique so it can be used for the physics program next year.

    Berndt Mueller, Brookhaven’s Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear and Particle Physics, noted, “This 19th year of operations demonstrates once again how the RHIC team — both accelerator physicists and experimentalists — is continuing to explore innovative technologies and ways to stretch the physics capabilities of the most versatile particle accelerator in the world.”

    Research at RHIC is funded primarily by the DOE Office of Science (NP) and by these agencies and organizations.

    Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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    A Challenging Future for Tropical Forests

    Mortality rates of moist tropical forests are on the rise due to environmental drivers and related mechanisms.

    Stronger, lighter, greener

    A new award-winning magnet technology invented at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory could help drive the nation's transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric and hybrid power more rapidly, at lower cost, and in a more environmentally friendly way.

    Science Up-Close: Developing a Cookbook for Efficient Fusion Energy

    To develop a future fusion reactor, scientists need to understand how and why plasma in fusion experiments moves into a "high-confinement mode" where particles and heat can't escape. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory simulated the transition into that mode starting from the most basic physics principles.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Neutron science publications reach new highs at ORNL's flagship facilities

    The High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have reached new levels of increased science productivity. In 2018, a record high of more than 500 scientific instrument publications were produced between HFIR and SNS--based on neutron beamline experiments conducted by more than 1,200 US and international researchers who used the world-leading facilities.

    Fiery sighting: A new physics of eruptions that damage fusion experiments

    Feature describes first direct sighting of a trigger for bursts of heat that can disrupt fusion reactions.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    An effect that Einstein helped discover 100 years ago offers new insight into a puzzling magnetic phenomenon

    Experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have seen for the first time what happens when magnetic materials are demagnetized at ultrafast speeds of millionths of a billionth of a second: The atoms on the surface of the material move, much like the iron bar did. The work, done at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser, was published in Nature earlier this month.

    Found: A precise method for determining how waves and particles affect fusion reactions

    Like surfers catching ocean waves, particles within plasma can ride waves oscillating through the plasma during fusion energy experiments. Now a team of physicists led by PPPL has devised a faster method to determine how much this interaction contributes to efficiency loss in tokamaks.

    Discovery adapts natural membrane to make hydrogen fuel from water

    In a recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists have combined two membrane-bound protein complexes to perform a complete conversion of water molecules to hydrogen and oxygen.


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    Argonne scientist elected as SAE Fellow

    Scientist Michael Wang from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently inducted as a Fellow of the professional engineering organization SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The organization reserves this prestigious grade of membership for thosewho have made significant contributions to mobility technology and have demonstrated leadership in their field.

    Top 10 Discoveries of 2018

    Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory compiles a list of the biggest advances made by the Lab's staff scientists, engineers, and visiting researchers. From uncovering mysteries of the universe to building better batteries, here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 discoveries of 2018.

    U.S. Department of Energy Announces $33 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced it will award 189 grants totaling $33 million to 149 small businesses in 32 states.

    DOE to Provide $16 Million for New Research into Atmospheric and Terrestrial Processes

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a plan to provide $16 million for new observational research aimed at improving the accuracy of today's climate and earth system models.

    Machine learning award powers Argonne leadership in engine design

    When attempting to design engines to be more fuel-efficient and emissions-free, automotive manufacturers have to take into account all the complexity inherent in the combustion process.

    ORNL partners with industry to address multiple nuclear technology challenges

    The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is collaborating with industry on six new projects focused on advancing commercial nuclear energy technologies that offer potential improvements to current nuclear reactors and move new reactor designs closer to deployment.

    Lithium earns honors for three physicists working to bring the energy that powers the sun to Earth

    Feature describes research of three PPPL physicists who have won the laboratory's 2018 outstanding research awards

    DOE approves technical plan and cost estimate to upgrade Argonne facility; Project will create X-rays that illuminate the atomic scale, in 3D

    The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the technical scope, cost estimate and plan of work for an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source, a major storage-ring X-ray source at Argonne.

    Costas Soukoulis elected to National Academy of Inventors

    Costas Soukoulis, Ames Laboratory senior scientist and Iowa State University Frances M. Craig Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, has been named as a 2018 National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow.

    Biophysicist F. William Studier Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

    F. William Studier, a Senior Biophysicist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 148 renowned academic inventors being recognized by NAI for 2018.


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    Observing Clouds in Four Dimensions

    Six cameras are revolutionizing observations of shallow cumulus clouds.

    A Challenging Future for Tropical Forests

    Mortality rates of moist tropical forests are on the rise due to environmental drivers and related mechanisms.

    Rapid Lake Draining on Ice Sheets Changes How Water Moves in Unexpected Ways

    Widespread fracturing during lake drainage triggers vertical shafts to form that affect the Greenland Ice Sheet.

    New Historical Emissions Trends Estimated with the Community Emissions Data System

    The data system will allow for more detailed, consistent, and up-to-date global emissions trends that will aid in understanding aerosol effects.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    New Method Knocks Out Yeast Genes with Single-Point Precision

    Researchers can precisely study how different genes affect key properties in a yeast used industrially to produce fuel and chemicals.

    How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls

    Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.

    Scientists Identify Gene Cluster in Budding Yeasts with Major Implications for Renewable Energy

    How yeast partition carbon into a metabolite may offer insights into boosting production for biofuels.

    More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities

    A combined experimental and modeling approach contributes to understanding small proteins with potential use in industrial, therapeutic applications.


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