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30.03.2021 10:16

Inverse kinematics allows transparent view on nucleons inside atomic nuclei

Silke Paradowski Stabsstelle Kommunikation und Medien
Technische Universität Darmstadt

    Darmstadt, March 30, 2021. By employing inverse kinematics, an elegant reversion of an established research method, and by choosing appropriate measurement conditions, an international research team has opened a path for a detailed study of properties of the nucleon-nucleon interaction in the atomic nucleus. The experiment has been carried out by a large international collaboration (BM@N Collaboration) led by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), the Tel Aviv University, the TU Darmstadt, as well as the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) at the accelerator facility of JINR in Dubna close to Moscow and published in the latest issue of “Nature Physics”.

    Strongly interacting many-body quantum systems are difficult to investigate experimentally. Such a system in nature is the atomic nucleus with its constituents, the nucleons, bound together by the strong force. Exploring the properties of this interaction among nucleons in the dense nuclear medium poses a particularly difficult challenge. High-energy proton beams with short wave length, for instance, are an often used probe by shooting them on a target containing the atomic nuclei of interest. Due to the strong interaction, however, the resulting picture is blurred by complex multiple interactions.

    Here, the scientists of the collaboration set in. For the measurements published in “Nature Physics”, they quasi reversed the principle of the experimental apparatus – they apply inverse kinematics. Instead of shooting a proton beam on atomic nuclei, the carbon nuclei to be explored were shot onto protons at rest. That is how they succeeded to demonstrate that a selection of the final state is possible that allows to exclude more complex interactions – provided inverse kinematics is used. This enables the investigation of the nuclear forces in the atomic nucleus without perturbation caused by other physical processes. Key of the experiment described in “Nature Physics” was inverting the kinematics, where the nuclei of interest are accelerated and directed as a high-energy beam (here approximately 3 GeV/nucleon 12C beam) towards protons at rest (provided as a liquid-hydrogen target). This enables besides the detection of the scattered nucleons, as well as the measurement and identification of the final state of the atomic nucleus after the scattering process, which is not feasible in normal kinematics. The analysis of the experiment has demonstrated that a proper selection of the final state allows the identification of direct one-step scattering processes and with that the extraction of information on the properties of the nucleons in the ground state of the atomic nucleus.

    Thanks to this selectivity, the scientists succeeded already in this first experiment to gain new insight into the short-distance component of the nucleon-nucleon interaction. The properties of the nucleon-nucleon and more-nucleon interactions at short distances is thereby of particular importance for the understanding of the properties of neutron-rich nuclear matter at high density, as present as neutron stars in our universe. Dr. Meytal Duer, scientist at the Institute for Nuclear Physics (AG Aumann) at the TU Darmstadt, and responsible for a significant fraction of the data analysis of the experiment published in “Nature Physics”, explains: “This experimental break-through paves the way to explore the properties of the short-range nucleon-nucleon interaction in neutron-rich short-lived nuclei in detail.” Such nuclei could be produced as intense beams at the new accelerator facility FAIR in Darmstadt, says Duer. The collaboration would plan already for the next year a first experiment with an unstable nucleus at the R3B facility (Reactions with Relativistic Radioactive Beams) at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy-Ion Research in Darmstadt.

    About TU Darmstadt
    The Technical University (TU) of Darmstadt is one of Germany’s leading technical universities. TU Darmstadt incorporates diverse science cultures to create its characteristic profile. The focus is set on engineering and natural sciences, which cooperate closely with outstanding humanities and social sciences. Three research fields shape the profile of TU Darmstadt: I+I (Information and Intelligence), E+E (Energy and Environment) and M+M (Matter and Materials). We dynamically develop our portfolio of research and teaching, innovation and transfer, in order to continue opening up important opportunities for the future of society. Our 312 professors, about 4,500 scientific and administrative employees and about 25,400 students devote their talents and best efforts to this goal. In the Unite! network, which unites universities from seven European countries, the TU Darmstadt is promoting the idea of the European university. Together with Goethe University Frankfurt and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, TU Darmstadt has formed the strategic Rhine-Main Universities alliance.


    Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

    Dr. Meytal Duer, Institute for Nuclear Physics, Department of Physics, TU Darmstadt, email: mduer@ikp.tu-darmstadt.de


    Originalpublikation:

    https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41567-021-01193-4


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