CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
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Iowa City IA 52242
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UI researchers contribute to search for basic building blocks of matter
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The world's most advanced search for the basic building
blocks of matter -- a quest begun in ancient Greece -- will be conducted with
the help of physicists from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
The Iowa research connection, valued at more than $5 million, is the result
of a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National
Science Foundation that it will contribute $531 million over the next eight
years to a $6 billion international project to construct the world's largest
atom-smasher. The apparatus, to be built at the CERN particle physics laboratory
on the border between France and Switzerland by 2005, will draw upon the work
of researchers from nearly 100 international universities, such as Harvard
and MIT, and will include particle detection devices built at the University
To understand where the Iowa research fits into the project, one need only
know that the atom-smasher will use magnets to accelerate two beams of protons
so that they race around a 16.5-mile oval track in opposite directions. When
they meet in a head-on collision, the protons will break apart, spraying particles
in different directions. The job of detecting those particles will fall, in
part, to UI physics professors Yasar Onel and Edward McCliment and researcher
Nural Akchurin, together with ISU physics and astronomy professors John Hauptman
and E. Walter Anderson, who will design a part of one of the particle detectors.
In addition to their design work, Onel serves as U.S. coordinator and Akchurin
is the technical manager for the international project.
The detector itself, called the forward calorimeter, will measure the energy
of particles moving in a forward direction after the proton collision has
taken place at the center of an energy mass of 14 TeV, or 14 trillion electron
volts -- enough energy to replicate, in miniature, conditions present in the
early universe. The calorimeter's quartz fibers will give off light, called
Cherenkov radiation, when struck by particles from the proton collisions.
According to Onel: "We don't need to see the particles themselves to
know that they're there, only to measure the light they give off."
He adds that the field of elementary particle physics is very exciting, as
one tries to unravel the building blocks of nature. Scientists know that atoms
are composed of electrons and nuclei, and that the nuclei are made up of protons
and neutrons. Neutrons are constructed of quarks. But that is where things
end, at present.
"It may be that quarks and electrons are the fundamental building blocks,
or they may be composed of something even more basic. No one knows,"
"Or we may discover a totally new physics," he adds. "There
is enormous potential for discovery with this new machine."