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 at nearly the speed of light, producing 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 three 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); and the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS) at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). NP is also constructing the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams to 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 Nuclear Physics Program also manages the DOE Isotope Program, which supports the production, distribution, and development of production techniques for radioactive and stable isotopes in short supply and critical to the nation. Isotopes are commodities of strategic importance for the nation. They are essential for energy exploration and innovation, medical applications, national security, and basic research. The goal of the program is to make key isotopes more readily available to meet U.S. needs. The program also supports R&D efforts to develop new and more cost-effective and efficient production and processing techniques. The R&D activities provide collateral benefits for training, contributing to workforce development, and helping to ensure a future U.S.-based expertise in the fields of nuclear chemistry and radiochemistry.

NP Science Highlights

Naturally Occurring Radiation Limits Superconducting Qubit Coherence Times
New experiments demonstrate the correlation of natural radiation, unpaired electrons, and decoherence in superconducting qubit devices.
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A Pioneering Exploration of Exotic Nuclei
Newly implemented techniques expand scientific understanding of isotopes whose nuclei have the “magic numbers” of protons and neutrons.
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Probing the “Equation of State” of Neutron Matter—The Stuff that Neutron Stars Are Made Of
Nuclear theorists explore the properties of dense neutron matter to get at the core of neutron stars.
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Computing Nuclei Properties at Lightning Speed
A fast, new approach to complex theoretical analysis of the bulk properties of atomic nuclei brings analysis to personal computers.
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Shape-Shifting Selenium; Abrupt Change Found Between Selenium-70 and Selenium-72
Scientists find the radioactive nucleus selenium-72 is football-shaped, answering a longstanding question about the nuclear shape of selenium isotopes
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Keeping Cool with an Innovative Bunched Beam Accelerator
Team combines many innovative accelerator accomplishments to keep gold ions cold and advance nuclear physics research.
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Scientists ‘Tune In’ to Proton Spin
Diagnostic test will improve performance of collider as physicists explore sources of proton spin.
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Probes of New Physics from Deep Underground
The SNO+ Experiment, over a mile underground, places new limits on grand unified theories and studies neutrinos from the Sun.
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The Aftermath of Neutron Star Collisions
New computer simulations reveal the explosive scene after ultra-dense stars collide, as well as where heavy elements may have originally formed.
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Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation
A new device may provide up to six times better contrast of tumors in the breast, while halving the radiation dose to patients.
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NP Program News

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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Nuclear Physicists Team Up to Tackle Proton Radius Problem
Physicists combine a fresh look at world data on the size of the proton with a new theoretical model to extract revised value for the proton's radius.
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Sea Quark Surprise Reveals Deeper Complexity in Proton Spin Puzzle
New data from the STAR experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) add detail—and complexity—to an intriguing puzzle that scientists have been seeking to solve: how the building blocks that make up a proton contribute to its spin. The results, just published as a rapid communication in the journal Physical Review D, reveal definitively for the first time that different “flavors” of antiquarks contribute differently to the proton’s overall spin—and in a way that’s opposite to those flavors’ relative abundance.
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Jefferson Lab Particle Accelerator Quality Testing Facility Is Going Stronger Than Ever After 5,000 Tests
Thirty years ago, a newly assembled team of scientists, engineers and technicians set out to build the world’s first automated test and qualification facility for superconducting radiofrequency, or SRF, accelerator components. Today, the Vertical Test Area at the Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab’) is still going strong, more than 5,000 SRF accelerator component tests later.
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Researchers Examine Puzzling Sizes of Extremely Light Calcium Isotopes
Michigan State University researchers have measured for the first time the nuclei of three proton-rich calcium isotopes, according to a new paper publ
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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
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