New matter matters

Rachel Abbey

KSU physicists work on new state in efforts to imitate the Big Bang

A new state of matter has been created and Kent State has been playing a vital role in its discovery.

Researchers aimed to recreate the matter found at the start of the universe, shortly after the Big Bang. The discovery was announced Monday at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, held this year in Tampa, Fla. Four experimental groups have been researching this theory.

Kent State is one of the institutions associated with the group, STAR, which stands for Solenoidal Tracker At RHIC. RHIC stands for Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, a particle accelerator used at the U.S. States Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“It gives us information how the universe looked a millionth of a second after it was created,” said Spiros Margetis, experimentalist for STAR and associate professor of physics.

Margetis and Declan Keane, physics professor, are the two leading faculty members in the group, but about 10 total faculty and students from the university are involved, said Makis Petratos, chairman of the physics department.

A collider accelerates particles to high speeds and “smashes” them together, Petratos said. This experiment uses gold nuclei, strips them of their electrons, accelerates them to almost the speed of light and causes them to collide.

When these particles collide, they reach extremely high temperatures and densities, Petratos said. The matter reached temperatures in the trillions of degrees and was highly concentrated in density.

“One spoonful of this matter weighs more than the state of Ohio,” Margetis said.

More than 15 years of research have culminated in the discovery of this new phase of matter created by quarks and gluons, particles that make up the protons and neutrons and create all matter, Margetis said.

The scientists were expecting to discover a gas-like plasma mixture of quark and gluon particles, Margetis said, but instead found a matter that acts like a fluid.

Not only were the researchers surprised to discover the matter was in a different state than they had theorized, but they also soon discovered the matter was nearly a perfect liquid, flowing with almost no resistance, which is rare, Petratos said.

This is the first major release of results from the experiments, Margetis said, but research will continue. Margetis and Keane have a continuing grant for $1 million for three years from the U.S. Department of Energy already in progress, Petratos said.

According to a news release from the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the findings of STAR and the three corresponding groups will be published in the journal Nuclear Physics A soon.

Contact academics reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].