Exploring the Nature of Matter
Plans and proposals for the next, great physics machine for studying the intrinsic bits of everyday matter are starting to form. The proposed Electron-Ion Collider could ensure that the cutting-edge science that has kept Jefferson Lab and the United States at the frontier of nuclear physics research for 25 years will continue for decades to come.
The EIC would accelerate electrons on one side and protons or ions on the other to nearly the speed of light before slamming the two streams of particles together. These collisions would allow scientists to probe deep inside the particles that comprise the nucleus of the atom to discover the hidden workings of nature that are responsible for all visible matter. An EIC could provide unique capabilities in the study of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), the theory that describes how quarks and gluons build protons, neutrons and nuclei.
In October 2015, the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee provided its recommendations on future priorities for the field of nuclear physics, including a long-range plan recommendation to build an EIC. Jefferson Lab is one of two Department of Energy national laboratories developing plans to host the facility.
A polarized Electron-Ion Collider, such as the machine being proposed for Jefferson Lab, would be uniquely suited to address several outstanding questions of the theory that describes the basic building blocks of matter, Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD). QCD is a framework for understanding how the building blocks of protons and neutrons, called quarks, are bound together by the “strong force.” The strong force is one of the four forces of nature – along with gravity, the electromagnetic and weak forces – and it is the force that builds protons and neutrons and the nuclei of atoms.
An EIC would create an entirely new collision dynamic. In layman's terms, the difference in the dynamics of Jefferson Lab's current CEBAF vs. this "new" proposed accelerator collision is the difference between a car crashing into a wall (speeding electrons into a stationary target) vs. a car crashing head-on into another vehicle (speeding electrons into speeding ions). This new dynamic could provide unique capabilities in the study of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), the theory that describes how quarks and gluons build protons, neutrons and nuclei.
The ion complex for a Jefferson Lab EIC would consist of entirely new equipment designed by Jefferson Lab staff members, who have decades of experience in accelerator R&D and accelerator operations. The new ion complex would consist of sources for ions, an ion linear accelerator, a prebooster synchrotron, a large booster synchrotron, and a medium-energy collider ring with energy up to 100 GeV.
The next large nuclear physics research facility being proposed to the DOE for construction is an Electron-Ion Collider (EIC). An EIC could provide unique capabilities for the study of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), the theory that describes how quarks and gluons build protons, neutrons and nuclei. In March 2013, NSAC ranked an EIC as “absolutely central” in its ability to contribute to world-leading science research.