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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Competing and Collaborating FAIRly

– By Nigel Lockyer, Director of TRIUMF

I just returned from a trip to Darmstadt Germany where I attended the inaugural one-day meeting of the FAIR Science Council. FAIR (Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research) is an ambitious new one-million-plus euro nuclear and particle physics project—mostly nuclear—addressing the intensity frontier. It will be located right next to GSI, the large nuclear physics lab just outside Darmstadt. They are aiming to have the first science from FAIR by 2018. It is being formed as an international laboratory, and has been incorporated with the German designation of “GmbH”.  Presently there are six shareholders: Germany, Russia, Sweden, Finland, India, and Romania. A number of new partners are in detailed negotiations: firm commitments are expected soon from France, Poland, and Romania; and a large group, which includes Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Norway and several more, is exploring joining. Canada and the US are not members yet but that could change.  It is arguably the most ambitious project in nuclear physics in the world.

The main thrust of FAIR focuses on the structure and evolution of matter on both a microscopic and a cosmic scale. There are four scientific pillars: 1) atomic physics, plasma physics, and applications such as nuclear medicine; 2) Compressed Baryonic Matter; 3) Nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics; 4) hadron structure and dynamics. I was intrigued with several science topics, but understanding the “vacuum” has always captured my interest.

When I looked into this in the past, it was far too murky for me as a particle physicist to make sense of quark and gluon condensates and spontaneous symmetry breaking of chiral symmetry. It is the energy associated with the vacuum that leads to the famous 120 orders of magnitude “wrong calculation” of the cosmological constant—one of theoretical physics biggest embarrassments, or so they say. FAIR thinks they will weigh in heavily on this subject. If they do, it will be a major scientific advance for quantum chromodynamics. Another area I found of interest was the plasma physics program. They will be able to make plasmas with heavy ions and thus could study inertial confinement with ions instead of lasers and light, as NIF does at Livermore. They will explore new territory in the temperature density plane and they plan to image the plasma using proton radiography, a technique I was introduced to when I first looked at proton therapy for cancer patients. To the best of my knowledge, Los Alamos has done the leading work in this area and are looking at mounting experiments at FAIR. That would be a powerful team.

I am on the committee because they have a rare isotope beam (RIB) program and TRIUMF is a major player in that field. FAIR will use a complimentary technique to TRIUMF, which in turn, will make us both competitors and collaborators.  I enjoyed meeting the committee members, many of whom I did not know, and especially interacting with an old friend from CDF days at Fermilab, now Director of Research at CERN, Sergio Bertolucci. Sergio provided a wealth of knowledge and advice for the FAIR project management team, as did the other committee members. Overall, it was a good first meeting for what will be a very exciting and important project for nuclear physics. I predict great things for them!

 

 

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