Nuclear Physics Research Center Will Open on Long Island to Study the Structure of Matter

BNL Sign

By Katherine Wright

A physics research center dedicated to understanding the building blocks of matter will open on Long Island this year, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University announced at the end of August.

The Center for Frontiers in Nuclear Science, which will be split between Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University, plans to start hiring in early 2018. It is expected to become the focal hub for worldwide nuclear physics research, bolstering Long Island’s bid for a first of its kind Election Ion Collider (EIC) for the United States that would smash electrons into protons or other nuclei, Abhay Deshpande, who was recently named the Center’s first director, said.

“The vision is to make BNL and SBU the world center for future [nuclear physics] studies related to the EIC,” Deshpande, who is also a professor of nuclear physics at Stony Brook University, said.

The Center will provide funding for graduate students and workshops through a $5 million grant from the Simons Foundation and $3 million in other researcher grants received by Stony Brook University, according to a press release put out by Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University.

Nuclear physicists currently don’t have a central place to interact and discuss the scientific problems associated with EIC science an issue the center could solve, Deshpande said.

“At the moment everyone is scattered all over the world,” Salvatore Fazio, a nuclear physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who has been involved in the facility’s collider bid, said. “The Center will bring people together for workshops and seminars, and make the community more interactive.”

Preparations have already started on the Center’s home. Office cubicles and a lounging area for scientists to congregate and talk about research will be located in the library at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s physics department. Space has also been made available in Stony Brook University’s Physics Department, and renovations to the space are about to begin, Deshpande said.

An initial research focus for the center will be science related to a proposed EIC, a cutting edge particle collider that would allow scientists to use electrons to “see” inside subatomic particles like protons or neutrons.

Particle colliders, like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, or the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, smash particles together at high speeds, breaking them apart, so that they can create new particles, or replicate the conditions of the early universe.

The proposed EIC, however, would work differently.

“It would work more like a microscope,” Krishna Kumar, a professor of nuclear physics at Stony Brook University said. “You can use electron beams to image deep inside the atom.”

Electrons are too light to break apart subatomic particles, but by watching how the electrons are deflected in the collisions, scientists can build up a picture of internal structure of the impacting particles and image their building blocks, so-called quarks and gluons. From these pictures they can learn how the building blocks are arranged and what keeps them glued together.

“We want to understand how quarks and gluons make up protons and neutrons, and then how protons and neutrons make up atomic nuclei,” Kumar said.

Alongside Brookhaven National Laboratory, a second site, Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, is also bidding to host the collider.

Building an EIC is a top priority for the US Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, a body that advises government-funding agencies on programs for nuclear science research, but the final green light has not yet been given by the Department of Energy, who will fund the project. This decision is expected some time next year.

About the Author

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright
Katherine is a science writer and journal editor working for the American Physical Society in Long Island, N.Y. She is a part-time journalism graduate student at Stony Brook University.