Nuclear Physics

One of the enduring mysteries of the universe is the nature of matter—what are its basic constituents and how do they interact to form the elements and the properties we observe? The mission of the Nuclear Physics (NP) program is to solve this mystery by discovering, exploring, and understanding all forms of nuclear matter. Nuclear physicists seek to understand not just the familiar forms of matter we see around us, but also exotic forms such as those that existed in the first moments after the Big Bang and that exist today inside neutron stars. The aim is to understand why matter takes on the specific forms now observed in nature and how that knowledge can benefit society in the areas of commerce, medicine, and national security.

The quest to understand the properties of different forms of nuclear matter requires long-term support for both theoretical and experimental research efforts. Theoretical approaches are based on calculations of the interactions of quarks and gluons, which form protons and neutrons, using today’s most advanced computers. Other theoretical research models the forces between protons and neutrons and seeks to understand and predict the structure of nuclear matter. Experiments in nuclear physics use large accelerators that collide particles up to nearly the speed of light to study the structure of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics and to produce short-lived forms of matter for investigation. Nuclear physicists also use low-energy, precision nuclear experiments, many enabled by new quantum sensors, to search for a deeper understanding of fundamental symmetries and nuclear interactions. Comparing experimental observations and theoretical predictions tests the limits of our understanding of nuclear matter and suggests new directions for experimental and theoretical research.

Highly trained scientists who conceive, plan, execute, and interpret transformative experiments are at the heart of the NP program. NP supports these university and national laboratory scientists. We also support U.S. participation in select international collaborations and provide over 90 percent of the nuclear science research funding in the United States. The world-class scientific user facilities and associated instrumentation necessary to advance the U.S. nuclear science program are large and complex. NP supports four scientific user facilities: the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL); the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (TJNAF); the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS) at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL); and currently under construction the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) which will provide unprecedented opportunities to study the synthesis of the heavy elements in the cosmos. Each of these facilities has unique capabilities that advance NP’s scientific mission.  

The DOE Isotope Program, supports the production, distribution, and development of production techniques for radioactive and stable isotopes in short supply and critical to the nation.

NP Science Highlights

Stable Nickel-64 Nuclei Take Three Distinct Shapes
Scientists track down coexistence of multiple shapes in the Nickel-64 nucleus: a spherical ground state and elongated and flattened shapes.
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Nuclear Physics from Rocks to Reactors
New measurements provide insights for geochronology and reactor design.
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CUORE Experiment Advances Search for a Rare Nuclear Decay
Nuclear physicists narrow the search for a rare nuclear decay that can explain the origin of matter in the universe.
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Charm Quarks Offer Clues to Confinement
Tracking particles containing charm quarks offers insight into how quarks combine.
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Isotope Discovery Continues: Mass Identification Confirms Production of a New Isotope of Mendelevium
Scientists discovered the lightest isotope of mendelevium thanks to the direct measurement of its mass number.
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How Large Are Neutron Stars?
Data from the first observation of a neutron-star collision combined with input from modern nuclear theory narrow the range of neutron star radii.
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New Prototype Advances Particle Accelerators for Industry and Medicine
Development of new particle accelerator components can make this niche research technology practical for industrial and medical applications.
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When Tiny, Energetic Worlds Collide
A new analysis provides a clearer picture of the universe by considering the yield of fast particles in grazing versus head-on nuclear collisions.
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New Measurement Fits Another Piece in the Proton Radius Puzzle
Physicists get closer to solving the proton radius puzzle with unique new measurement of the charge radius of the proton.
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The Life and Death of Stars: Viewing Nuclear Reactions to Understand the Universe Around Us
Studying nuclear reactions using a Time Projection Chamber allows scientists to study stars’ internal processes.
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NP Program News

Department of Energy Announces $3 Million for Pilot Diversity Program
DOE announced a plan for a pilot program to provide $3M for research traineeships to broaden and diversify the nuclear physics research community.
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Department of Energy to Provide $12 Million for Nuclear Data Research
Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a plan to provide up to $12 million for new research on nuclear data.
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Department of Energy Announces $6 Million for Accelerator R&D for Nuclear Physics
Research will Focus on both Existing and Next-Generation Facilities
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Department of Energy to Provide $7 Million for Accelerator R&D for Nuclear Physics
Research will Focus on both Existing and Next-Generation Facilities
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Department of Energy to Provide $16 Million for Isotope Production R&D
Awards Will Go to Universities and National Laboratories on a Competitive Basis
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Electron Bunches Keep Ions Cool at RHIC
Brookhaven Lab's accelerator team has successfully demonstrated a bunched-beam electron cooling technique at RHIC.
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Department of Energy Announces $6.5 Million for Isotope R&D and Production
Projects Span Medical Isotopes and Isotope Production Methods
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Contact Information

Nuclear Physics
U.S. Department of Energy
SC-26/Germantown Building
1000 Independence Avenue., SW
Washington, DC 20585
P: (301) 903 - 3613
F: (301) 903 - 3833
E: Email Us

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