Inside Iowa State
October 8, 1999
Scientists to explore universe birth
by Skip Derra
A team of 12 Iowa State and Ames Laboratory scientists have played a key role in developing a detector that scientists will use to study forms of matter that existed only at the moment of creation of the universe.
The detector will analyze data from a new Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y.
The accelerator will enable physicists to create an exotic form of matter called "quark-gluon plasma" that existed for only a few millionths of a second after the birth of the universe. Physicists believe that all matter in the universe today originally was in the form of this plasma.
"We want to find out what happened at the birth of the universe," said ISU physics professor John Hill. "To do that, we want to see if we can replay the creation story in the laboratory."
Hill is a senior member on the ISU/Ames Lab team that developed the first-level trigger, a major component of the PHENIX detector, the largest of four detectors that will record and analyze data coming from the accelerator. Other team members are faculty John Lajoie, Marzia Rosati and Fred Wohn (retired) of ISUs physics and astronomy department; engineers Del Bluhm, Harold Skank, Gary Sleege and Bill Thomas of Ames Laboratorys Engineering Services Department; and scientists Sasha Lebedev, Athan Petridis and Lynn Wood.
Physicists believe that at the moment of creation, about 15 billion years ago, the universe was very small, dense and billions of times hotter than the surface of the Sun. The universe was so hot that individual protons and neutrons that make up ordinary matter had not yet come into existence. Their basic constituents (quarks and gluons) swirled about in a hot "soup" (the quark-gluon plasma).
Recreating the quark-gluon plasma and watching how it transforms into protons and neutrons will help physicists pin down the fundamental theories of how matter evolved into its present form and the forces holding it together.
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