February 1, 2023 - Podcast

Episode 342 — Advancing nuclear physics

Indiana University researchers are part of a five-year, $11.24 million initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy to solve challenging and complex issues central to advancing knowledge in nuclear physics. The effort brings together the world’s top nuclear theorists to advance theoretical frameworks for the accurate prediction of nuclear interactions and properties of nuclear matter.

As part of this work, IU's Adam Szczepaniak, director of the Joint Physics Analysis Center and professor of physics, is leading a project exploring the physics of exotic hadrons — a largely unexplored group of subatomic particles governed by rules that still need to be discovered. Of the Department of Energy's award, $1.8 million supports this project, which includes other IU researchers and collaborators from across the world.

Szczepaniak says this initiative may ultimately provide scientists with a better understanding of matter itself. He says they are expecting a lot of novel phenomena that have not been seen yet, even though they cannot predict exactly what those will be.

While nuclear physics examines particles at an incredibly small scale, it can have a big impact — helping advance understanding of the universe itself. Having a thorough understanding of nuclear physics can lead to advancements in many fields, including medicine or climatology, Szczepaniak says.

To better understand exotic hadron physics, Szczepaniak's project brings together three teams: one conducting experiments, one developing theory and numerical simulations, and one that will combine the results of experiments with predictions from the calculations. The researchers' approach emphasizes the need for common tools, based on hadron scattering amplitudes, to simultaneously analyze experimental data and numerical simulation. They hope their approach will allow for a more robust determination of the spectrum of exotic hadron resonances.

The exotic hadrons that the collaboration is hoping to unravel are expected to contain many gluons, which are the most mysterious particles know in physics, Szczepaniak says. They only exist deep inside atomic nuclei and are responsible for over 95 percent of visible matter in the universe -- but how this happens is still a mystery.

Szczepaniak says IU student researchers are critical to this work, and he hopes the project will inspire students to pursue this field and help build the next generation of nuclear physicists.