Posts Tagged ‘PHENIX’

The Research Special

0 Commentsby   |  07.16.13  |  Department, Research

We are proud to have students and Faculty at prestigious research labs and universities for summer research projects.  We can be found at our typical summer haunts working at ACU, Brookhaven National Lab in New York, FermiLab near Chicago, and the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany.  We also have a new project at the University of Illinois, and two students on summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) projects at Illinois and the Colorado School of Mines.

We are thrilled that ACU has produced a new video highlighting our summer research!  Enjoy this Wildcat Video Minute (ok, two-and-a-half minutes):

WVM header

Notice that this is linked to a playlist on our spiffy new Youtube Channel!

Want to learn more about our research?  Want to know what it is like to be an ACU student at the lab?  No problem, have some DANGO.  Here’s the June issues of our DANGO (the Doings ANd Goings On) newsletter–now with the picture of the week:


-Dr. D



PHENIX publishes 100th paper


0 Commentsby   |  06.23.11  |  Physics News, Research

We received word this morning that the 100th peer-reviewed paper by PHENIX has been published online.  To the best of our knowledge, every single paper includes at least one person from ACU on the author list.  The first paper was published in April 2001, and it is an amazing accomplishment by the PHENIX Collaboration to reach this milestone in 10 years.

View the complete list of published peer-reviewed articles on PHENIX’s web page.



3 Commentsby   |  07.21.10  |  Research

[Editor's note:  This is the first in a long overdue series introducing the different ACU physics projects.  This story is by ACU students Kyle Gainey and Spenser Lynn.]

Everything in the universe, from the smallest particles to the largest stars, is controlled by the laws and forces of nature.  These forces cause an apple to fall to the ground and even give power to the sun.  Phenomena such as these have fascinated people for ages and their curiosity has led them to ask the question, why?  Physics is a natural science with the goal of explaining the laws of nature in a defined, mathematical way.  The men and women who study physics are called physicists and, using the scientific method, they work to unravel the mysteries of the universe.  To do this, physicists try to find out what everything is made of and how it works.  By now, they have learned a lot: all things are made of tiny bits of matter called molecules.  The smallest drop of water possible is a water molecule (H2O).  Molecules are made of smaller particles called atoms.  Atoms form into different types called elements and are organized on the periodic table of elements.  A water molecule, for example, is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  Smaller still are protons, neutrons, and electrons which build atoms.  Most high school text books stop at protons, neutrons, and electrons and declare them to be the smallest building blocks of nature, but nuclear physicists are interested in even smaller particles such as quarks and gluons, which make up protons and neutrons.  Observing these microscopic particles with the human eye or even a microscope is impossible, so it is necessary to build large detectors that use high speed technology and computers in order to make observations about these particles.

One such detector is the Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment, also known as the PHENIX Experiment.  PHENIX is so large that one person could not operate it alone, so hundreds of physicists from all over the world work together in a team called a collaboration.  PHENIX is the largest of four particle detectors at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island, New York.  PHENIX is made up of many different parts, each of which play a specific role in the experiment.  Altogether, PHENIX weighs more than 6,000,000 pounds and is larger than a house.  By using PHENIX and RHIC, physicists hope to better understand the fundamental laws of physics, the Big Bang, and a new state of matter called Quark-Gluon Plasma that may have existed in the moments after the beginning of the universe.

ACU students and professors standing in front of the PHENIX detector at RHIC.

ACU students and professors standing in front of the PHENIX detector at RHIC (click for a slightly larger version).

In order to to study quarks, gluons, and other small particles, physicists at PHENIX follow a multi-step procedure that begins with a gold ion beam and ends with a published paper.  Beginning at the Tandem Van de Graff, a gold ion beam is produced.  A gold ion is a gold atom that has some of its electrons stripped away.  The ion beam travels through a pipe that uses magnets to direct the beam to the booster. At the booster, the beam’s energy is increased and the particles are accelerated.  The beam then travels to the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS), where it is accelerated again before traveling to the RHIC beam line.  Once in RHIC, the beam is traveling at 99.995% of the speed of light, which is about 671,000,000 miles per hour.  RHIC is a circle with a circumference of two miles, and located at different location along the ring are the four particle detectors.  Before entering RHIC, the ion beam is split in half, with half of the beam traveling around RHIC clockwise and the other half traveling counterclockwise. The beams are kept in two parallel beam pipes that only intersect at the detectors.  At PHENIX, the two beams collide and the gold ions smash into each other with enormous amounts of heat and energy.  The temperature inside of a collision is greater than one trillion degrees Fahrenheit.  When the ions collide, they create a shower of particles, and different kinds of particles are scattered in all directions.  These particles then travel through the many types of detectors in PHENIX where high speed electronics record what happened.  The signals from the electronics are then sent from the detector and are organized into an event and recorded.  The events are continuously monitored to ensure that nothing has gone wrong.  The data are then sent to the RHIC computing facility for processing.  Supercomputers process the data and reconstruct it so that physicists can learn things such as the particle type, momentum, energy, and charge.  After reconstruction, the data are analyzed.  By looking at the collected data, physicists hope to make new discoveries about elementary particles, the Quark-Gluon Plasma, and proton spin.  Their finding are then published in a scientific paper to be shared with the rest of the scientific community.

The research going on at PHENIX is real and is making an impact on the lives of people all over the world. From medical applications such as cancer treatment and MRI, to improving nuclear energy and other forms of alternative fuels, physicists are working to solve some of the most pressing challenges today. The future looks bright for PHENIX and all fields of physics as physicists continue to probe deeper into the mysteries that exist in our universe and continuously learn new things.

-Kyle Gainey and Spenser Lynn

Very Different, but so Similar


0 Commentsby   |  06.26.10  |  Science and Religion

(Contribution from Dr. Towell)

I’ve always been amazed when two things that are extremely different have so much in common.  While examples are abundant, I’d like to highlight two.

Example one:  Our sun and the state of matter created in the collision of gold nuclei traveling at almost the speed of light.  Both of these are sometimes loosely referred to as ‘fireballs’ because they are hot and round.  Studying these objects helps us learn more about how the basic forces in nature work and how matter is structured.  Of course studying these objects, especially the inside of these objects is extremely difficult.  So these two objects have lots in common.

If you’d like to know a bit more about the core of the collision of nuclei, check out this story.  We call this state of matter a quark-gluon plasma or QGP.

On the other hand, these objects are worlds apart.  The core of the sun is hot, about 16 million degrees.  The core of the collision of nuclei is 250,000 times hotter.  That means the QGP is about 4 trillion degrees.  There is also a size difference.  The sun is about 1,400,000,000 meters in diameter.  The QGP formed in the collision of gold nuclei is about 0.000 000 000 000 001 meters in diameter.  That’s right.  The sun is about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger than the QGP.  I don’t even know the name of that number.

So how do we study something as small and as hot as the QGP?  We build big detectors and study the particles that are emitted from it.  Again, this is similar to studying the sun since we don’t have the option of getting close to or inside of it either.  So we study the sun by viewing the particles it emits. More »

ACU and PHENIX celebrate 10 years of working together


2 Commentsby   |  06.21.10  |  Research

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the first recorded collision of the nuclei from two gold atoms by the PHENIX collaboration at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  This collision (shown below) and the billions of billions that followed, have deepened our understanding of the structure of matter and what holds it together on the smallest size scales and the largest energy scales.  From the beginning, ACU and our Nuclear Physics Research Team have been part of this work.

The first PHENIX event–June 15, 2000!Event display of the first Au+Au collision recorded by the PHENIX detector.

Event display of the first Au+Au collision recorded by the PHENIX detector.

In an email to the PHENIX collaboration, the spokeswoman, Barbara Jacak said, “Precisely ten years ago, PHENIX recorded our very first collision. It has been quite a journey from that day to now. Our accomplishments include 88 papers published and several more in the refereeing process.  The many thousands of citations garnered by these papers are a testament not only to our productivity, but also to the importance of our data.  In the incredibly successful Run-10, we recorded almost exactly one petabyte of data! Such volumes seemed downright scary a decade ago, and now we have blazed a trail wherein it is simply normal.  Our scientific and technical impact from the first decade is enormous, and I am confident that the impact from the next decade will be as well!”

I joined the PHENIX collaboration in 1999 and have been an active member ever since that time.  During the past ten years 36 ACU students have been involved with this research.  Most of these students and 4 ACU faculty members have contributed sufficiently to be listed as authors on the papers published by PHENIX.  In fact, there has not been a PHENIX publication that does not include a member of our team as an author.

It is worth noting that the students that got experience working on PHENIX have followed very different but also very successful career paths.  While some students have continued in graduate school to pursue a degree in nuclear physics, other students have decided to specialize in other fields of physics.  Other students have gone to graduate school in fields of engineering, math, and computer science.  Some students have gone to medical school or even medical physics.  Of course several students sought employment after graduating from ACU and found great jobs in education and industry.  What all of these students have in common is that while they were helping us learn more about the nature of the world around us, they were also gaining a valuable experience that helped them prepare for their future.

-Dr. Towell