College of Science & Engineering
This group focuses on quantum chromodynamics (QCD is the fundamental theory behind nuclear physics) at extremely high temperatures and densities. These conditions are reached in ultra-relativistic heavy-ion collisions in experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab and at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. By colliding heavy ions, researchers are recreating and studying the kind of hot and dense matter formed in the first microseconds after the Big Bang. This group is leading a robust research program which is improving the state of the art in modeling and understanding the early, middle, and late stages of heavy-ion collisions.
When heavy ions collide at near the speed of light in accelerators, a variety of new states of matter are formed which are fundamentally different from that found in the incoming ions, which are made of protons and neutrons. In the first moments of the collision, strong color gluon fields develop between quarks, generating a state of matter called a color glass condensate. These researchers have developed new techniques to calculate the compression and excitation energy of the colliding nuclei immediately after the collision. These provide the initial conditions for the subsequent hydrodynamic expansion of the hot and dense matter. The initial density can be more than twenty times that of normal atomic nuclei and replicate the conditions in the interiors of neutron stars, supernovae explosions, and neutron star mergers as measured by detection of gravitational waves.
After a short period of time, the produced matter evolves into another novel state of matter known as the quark-gluon plasma. Tremendous pressures in the plasma cause it to expand extremely rapidly. As it does so, it cools into yet another phase of matter called a hadronic gas. Past work of the group focused on constructing a crossover equation of state which interpolates between the quark-gluon plasma state at high temperatures and densities and the hadronic gas phase at low temperatures and densities. This equation of state was applied to the observations of skewness and kurtosis in the distribution of net proton yields at RHIC, suggesting new parameters for describing the evolution of this gas.
Currently, the crossover equation of state is being extended to include the possible existence of a critical point in the QCD phase diagram, where the line of phase separation is expected to switch from a rapid crossover to a first-order phase transition. Such a critical point has been conjectured on a variety of theoretical bases, but has yet to be experimentally confirmed, making a generalized equation of state which includes a possible critical point an essential component of the search for such a feature.
The researchers have developed a new theoretical framework for computing the viscosities and thermal conductivity of the fluid. They will be using this framework to numerically compute these transport coefficients which involves solving multi-dimensional integral equations. In addition, they showed how these transport coefficients can not only be used in the relativistic fluid equations but also to compute the departure from equilibrium of the single-particle distribution functions as the system transitions from a continuous fluid to the individual particles observed in the experiments.
A related line of research investigates the role of thermal fluctuations in heavy-ion collisions. This group, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Illinois and Duke University, developed the theory of hydrodynamic fluctuations for use in relativistic heavy ion collisions. The group made the necessary steps to calculate the effect of this noise in hydrodynamic simulations of heavy-ion collisions. They continued to explore the effects of these hydrodynamic fluctuations on femtoscopic radii and on charge balance functions in heavy-ion collisions. Subsequent collaborations with Michigan State University studied charge correlations via particle diffusion on top of a background of hydrodynamic evolution of heavy-ion collisions and compared the results to experimental data.
Having shown analytically how to implement fluctuations in heavy-ion collisions in such a way that relativistic causality is respected (so that no information travels faster than the speed of light), the researchers are working to show that a numerical implementation of this formalism in simple 1+1 dimensional models of heavy-ion collisions is in agreement with analytical results. That will pave the way to implementation in full 3+1 dimensions, which is much more of a challenge numerically.