An international team led by IRFU and the Japanese research institute RIKEN was able to study the structure of a neutron-rich zirconium nucleus (110Zr)—a first, calling certain models into question. Produced by an accelerator at RIKEN and measured by the MINOS detector, this heavy nucleus proves to be more deformed than expected.
The physicists from the Compass collaboration at Cern, which comprises a team from Irfu, have just published the results of a new measurement of the quark structure of the proton . This uncommon but eagerly awaited measurement tends to confirm one of the basic assumptions of the theory of the strong interaction, the Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD). According to QCD, the complex reaction between two particles in a collision of sufficiently high energy can be separated (factorized) into two contributions: the interaction itself and the quark distribution functions inside the interacting particles. To examine the concept of factorization, the experimenters measured the same quantity called asymmetry, but using two different physical processes: first with a muon beam and then with a pion beam. The result is uncommon because paradoxically, in order to confirm the QCD predictions, the two processes must produce opposite-sign results.
The dynamical view of the internal structure of the nucleon is conveniently described in terms of ‘electromagnetic form factors’, that contain the information on the charge and magnetic currents created by the constituent quarks and gluons. Electron scattering allows to characterize the nuclear matter, which distribution within a radius of 1 fm (10-15 m) is far from being uniform. This matter can be created in electron-positron annihilation or annihilate when matter and antimatter collide in a proton-antiproton collision. The same form factors formally enter in the description of these reactions. They bring the secret of the matter creation from the quantum vacuum. IRFU, following pioneering experiments at Saclay (ALS), participated to several experiments in this topic, in scattering reactions (at Jefferson Lab, USA) and in annihilation reactions (SLAC, USA). A future experiment will measure these form factors in a large kinematical domain: the PANDA experiment at FAIR (Darmstadt,Germany). A realistic computer simulation of the expected precision of this measurement has recently been published in the EPJA and selected to make the cover page of the journal. The expected precision of the reaction: antiproton-proton annihilation into a lepton pair, will allow for the first time the individual determination of the electric and magnetic form factors in the time-like region.
How the constituents of the matter, the quarks and the gluons, do interact?
Electromagnetic form factors offer an essential information on the dynamical properties of this interaction. They acquire, however, a different meaning in the different kinematical regions. In the scattering region (called space-like) they carry the information of the spatial dimension (the electric charge density), whereas in the annihilation region (the time-like region) they carry a time-dependent information, that can be interpreted as the formation time of the quark-antiquark pairs from the quantum vacuum and of their evolution in time towards the formation of a proton-antiproton pair.
The reaction of interest here is the proton-antiproton annihilation into a lepton pair. The experimental challenge consists in detecting an electron-positron pair hidden in a hadronic background that is more important by several orders of magnitude. Indeed, the initial particles being hadrons (i.e., particles driven by the strong interaction) the probability to create hadrons is millions of time higher than leptons (particles driven by the weak and electromagnetic interactions), in particular electrons and muons. The most difficult reaction to be subtracted from the background is definitely the production of two charged pions, as the pions are the lightest hadrons and the momenta of pions and electrons are comparable. The reconstruction of the kinematics allows to reject the reactions with more particles in the final state, the neutral pions that disintegrate into two photons, as well as secondary particles. Most of all, the reconstruction of the energy loss in the electromagnetic calorimeter is discriminative for the identification of electrons with respect to pions.
According to the ALICE collaboration at LHC (CERN), certain rare proton collisions have properties that are similar to those of a quark–gluon plasma. In the past, these properties had been observed for collisions of heavy nuclei only. The physicists are now confronted with a new enigma: how can a state of quark–gluon plasma emerge in a system as "small" as that generated by a collision between two protons?