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For scientists tracking the transformation of protons and neutrons—the components of atomic nuclei that make up everything we see in the universe today—into a soup of fundamental building blocks known quark-gluon plasma, more is better. More particle tracks, that is. Thanks to a newly installed upgrade of the STAR detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), nuclear physicists now have more particle tracks than ever to gain insight into the crucial matter-building transition that ran this process in reverse nearly 14 billion years ago.
RHIC—a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility for nuclear physics research at Brookhaven National Laboratory—collides beams of heavy particles such as the nuclei of gold atoms to recreate the extreme conditions of the early universe, including temperatures more than 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun. The collisions melt the atoms' protons and neutrons, momentarily setting free their inner building blocks—quarks and gluons—which last existed as free particles one millionth of a second after the Big Bang. The STAR detector captures tracks of particles emerging from the collisions so nuclear physicists can learn about the quarks and gluons—and the force that binds them into more familiar particles as the hot quark-gluon plasma cools.
STAR - Detector - Upgrade - Time - Projection
The STAR detector upgrade of the "inner Time Projection Chamber," or iTPC, was completed just in time for this year's run of collisions at RHIC. It increases the detector's ability to capture particles emerging close to the beamline in the "forward" and "rearward" directions, as well as particles with low momentum.
"With the upgrade of the inner TPC, we can dramatically increase the detector coverage and the total number of particles we can measure in any given event," said Grazyna Odyniec, group leader of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Relativistic Nuclear Collisions group, which was responsible for the construction of original...
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