Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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A Thing of Beauty

A sophisticated new instrument will probe a key frontier in nuclear and particle physics: subatomic jets of particles produced by the decay of beauty quarks.
February 1, 2019
M&M’S

Artistically rendered image of subatomic particle tracks emerging from a high-energy collision at an accelerator laboratory.

With this experiment, particle physics will get its report card.

A Los Alamos physicist and leader of a multi-institution team working to build a cutting-edge particle detector, Ming Liu lives in a somewhat different mental space than the rest of us. He sees the quark-gluon plasma, or QGP—a high-temperature, high-density mixture of free quarks (which are normally bound inside protons and neutrons) and gluons (which transmit forces between quarks)—as one of only a handful of genuine research frontiers for advancing fundamental physics. It is a critical testing ground for a rare corner of particle physics that, after many decades, manages to remain relatively unconstrained by experiment. And unlike other fundamental-physics frontiers, which tend to be speculative because their effects only become evident at energies that scientists can’t achieve in a laboratory (think string theory), the QGP is—barely—accessible with current technology.

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