Electron-Ion Collider, a New Nuclear Physics Facility, to Be Built at Brookhaven National Laboratory
In early January, the Department of Energy announced that Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York would be the site of a new nuclear physics facility called the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC). With this announcement, government officials recognized the need for such a facility to continue U.S. leadership in nuclear physics research. These decisions were made following recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences Committee on U.S.-Based Electron-Ion Collider Science Assessment, on which U-M Professor Christine Aidala served as an expert member and leader in establishing the EIC project.
“This accelerator will permit us to explore the substructure of protons and atomic nuclei at unprecedented precision and with exquisite control,” says Professor Aidala, who plans to carry out research at the new facility. "I am very excited that this versatile collider will allow us to measure so many novel aspects of nuclear matter and interactions.”
The EIC will be integrated into the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), which is the existing nuclear physics facility at Brookhaven. RHIC employs collisions between protons or atomic nuclei, whereas the EIC will study collisions between electrons and protons or electrons and nuclei, with the electron and proton beams polarized. These collisions are used to study the strong nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces in nature. As the name suggests, the strong nuclear force is the strongest of the four forces, with a strength 100 times that of the electromagnetic force. While the electromagnetic force holds electrons and nuclei together in atoms, the strong nuclear force binds protons and neutrons to form the atomic nucleus, overcoming the electromagnetic repulsion between the protons. In turn, protons and neutrons are each made up of three quarks held together by particles called “gluons.” However, a complete understanding of the structure of the quarks and gluons making up protons has not
yet been determined.
In addition to research, Professor Aidala is a founder and leader of the EIC User Group, the collaboration that will work at this facility. This group of researchers currently has 1055 members from 216 universities and laboratories in 31 countries across 6 continents.