A time machine to reveal the origins of the universe
When gold ions speeding inside the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider on Long Island, New York, smash into each other, these collisions can produce temperatures of up to 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit, so hot that protons and neutrons melt. As those particles disintegrate, the quarks and gluons of which they are comprised freely interact to form a new state of matter, called a quark-gluon plasma. As the material cools after the collision is over, protons and neutrons re-form, producing 4,000 subatomic particles in the process. Using the RHIC, scientists are trying to re-create the conditions that existed during the first millionth of a second after the big bang.
To better understand how matter has evolved in our universe, physicists at the RHIC send gold atoms through several accelerators, stripping away their electrons so they become positively charged ions. Those ions launch into two circular tubes and race at up to 99.9 percent of the speed of light before they collide. In examining the remnants of these collisions, the scientists have found that particles at this post-big-bang stage behave more like a liquid instead of the predicted gas.
What’s In It For You
RHIC scientists are currently developing devices that accelerate protons and more precisely guide them to irradiate and kill cancerous tumors in humans. Engineers have also used the heavy ion beam to punch tiny holes in plastic sheets, making filters that can sort substances at the molecular level. Down the line, we might see more-efficient energy-storage devices based on the superconducting magnet technology used in the RHIC.