Experimental particle physics reconstruction

US particle accelerator to receive upgraded, UK-built detector

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UK scientists will lead the development of the detector at the heart of a next-generation particle accelerator, which will be built at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State.

Nuclear and particle physicists in the UK will lead preliminary work to help design its some of the detector technologies for the vast, complex experiment. They are supported with £3m funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The work will continue for almost three years.

The Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) will be built on the existing Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) facility at Brookhaven, the only large particle accelerator in operation in the US. Particle accelerators like the RHIC accelerates beams of ions to near the speed of light and causes them to collide, revealing their internal structure.

The EIC will be focused on the strong interaction, the strongest of the four fundamental interactions, which is responsible for binding the constituents of nuclei and thus holding together matter. Scientists will be able to investigate how quarks (fundamental matter particles which interact with the strong force) and gluons (the “carrier” for the strong force) are distributed and how they interact.

The EIC will consist of two intersecting accelerators: one producing a beam of electrons, the other producing a beam of protons or heavier nuclei. These two beams – which move at almost the speed of light – will be steered via incredibly precise manoeuvres into head-on collisions with centre-of-mass energy ranging from 20GeV to 140GeV. Collisions between electrons and protons or heavier ions produce fewer particles than the collisions caused at the RHIC at present, allowing scientists to extract more precise information about the behaviour of forces and particles inside the nucleus.

The new particle accelerator will make use of existing ion sources, a superconducting magnet ion storage ring, and other infrastructure of the RHIC. However, a new electron source and accelerator, and storage rings will be added inside the existing collider tunnel. The collider’s new hardware will include at least one detector that can capture most particles scattering from collisions in all directions at a wide range of energies.

Its detectors will measure the scattered particles’ energy, momentum, mass, and type, allowing scientists to generate three-dimensional models of quarks and gluons inside protons. This could help form an understanding of how gluons and quarks are confined to within the nucleus and provide insights into a hypothetical state of matter, gluonic matter, only observable at high energies.

Justin O’Byrne, STFC associate director for nuclear physics, said; “The UK nuclear physics community is a small yet highly impactful research community, and is internationally recognised for its leadership and expertise.”

“This early work will ultimately influence the capabilities and the scope of the experiment, and therefore the results that will come out of it. Through this funding, we are positioning UK scientists to take a strong leadership role in influencing what the EIC detectors will be.”

Construction of the accelerator is expected to begin in 2023-24, following the completion of technical designs. It is expected to be finished around 2030, at estimated cost of $1.6-2.6bn. In Europe, CERN is exploring a possible upgrade to the LHC – the addition of a new electron accelerator to the proton accelerator ring – which would enable the investigation of electron-ion collisions at extreme energies. Chinese and Russian scientists are also exploring plans for electron-ion colliders.  

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