By Mitch Holt, Staff Writer
About 23 students and professors have been involved in a project during the last five years that has created extremely hot liquids and is helping scientists understand matter.
Scientists from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, N.Y., recently announced that experimental efforts at its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) created a state of matter that is unexpectedly a liquid; The RHIC rapidly moves gold nuclei around two 2.5-mile-wide rings at almost the speed of light and then smashes them together.
“The temperature we are producing when colliding gold atoms is about 60,000 times hotter than the sun,” said Dr. Donald Isenhower, chair of the Department of Physics and participant in this project.
Dr. Dmitri Kharzeevevery, theoretical physicist at Brookhaven, said in a New York Times interview that every substance ever known before this project, when heated to two to three million degrees, would turn to a gas and evaporate; however, the surprise created by the RHIC is that the matter created by the gold nuclei collisions, which creates temperatures of up to one trillion degrees Kelvin, is a liquid.
These experiments are playing a major role in helping scientists to understand the matter that holds together protons and neutrons, scientists say.
Twenty ACU students have worked on this experiment during the past five years in many different areas of the project, Isenhower said. Ten of these students are co-authors in the paper being published about this collaboration of scientists in the RHIC experiment.
Dr. Rusty Towell, professor in the Department of Physics, has been working on this experiment since before he was hired at ACU.
“I started working on this in 1999 and was hired by ACU in 2001,” Towell said. He was hired in 1999 as a postdoctoral associate of the Los Alamos National Laboratory where he oversaw the construction of the Muon Tracking detector, one of the subsystems of the overall experiment.
Isenhower said he enjoys participating in the experiment because of the many questions in physics it answers.
“Physicists are curious about the way the world works,” said Isenhower. “The world works differently under extreme conditions, so we are trying to recreate these conditions to better understand our world.”