Researchers find answers about the world through a ‘small bang’

Ariel Lev

Kent State researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, have created the small bang: a small-scale version of the creation of the universe.

The big-bang theory suggests the universe began with the explosion of an extremely dense atom and has been constantly expanding since then. The small bang is the experimental version of this theory that researchers use to determine properties of matter following such an explosion.

The small bang is created by sending beams of charged gold atoms called ions in opposite directions around Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. RHIC is a system used to send ions racing in opposite directions around a 2.4-mile ring until they collide. When the ions collide, high-energy matter is released from the collision.

“(High-energy matter) has similar characteristics to molecules that existed at the beginning of the universe,” said Declan Keane, director of Kent State’s Center for Nuclear Research. “We create this energetic form of matter and look at the fragments that come out. Then we can determine the properties of that type of matter.”

The data collected and analyzed in these experiments help researchers learn about why the world works the way it does. It shows the researchers what type of matter existed at the moment after the creation of the universe. This information helps them explain how the universe developed as it did and where it might be going.

Many Kent State graduate students and faculty work at the Brookhaven lab, while undergraduate students work in the Center for Nuclear Research at Kent State.

The center is a place for Kent State students and faculty to work with the data collected at Brookhaven.

“What we are interested in is the fundamental structure of matter,” said George Fai, associate director of the Center for Nuclear Research. “This research helps us form a picture of the early development of the universe while describing what we see.”

Kent State students are also given the opportunity to help build some of the equipment used at the Brookhaven lab. Undergraduates build electronic equipment, particle detectors and other equipment that is necessary for the research done at Brookhaven.

“This is a good program for undergraduates,” Keane said. “With a few weeks of practice they can get pretty good at building this kind of equipment.”

The high-voltage equipment can be dangerous, but Kent State students don’t need to be worried about nuclear disaster in Northeast Ohio, similar to that in Russia.

“There’s no need to worry about a Chernobyl-like disaster,” Keane said. “There are safety systems in place that make it impossible for people to be irradiated.”

Contact sciences reporter Ariel Lev at [email protected].