Augustana Admitted to PHENIX Collaboration

Augustana has been admitted as the newest member of the PHENIX collaboration at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in New York state. After a petition by Dr. Nathan Grau, assistant professor of physics, the institutional board voted unanimously in mid-December to accept the College as the third primarily undergraduate institution of the collaboration following Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and Muhlenburg College in Allentown, Pa.

The PHENIX (Pioneering High-Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment) collaboration is an association of 500 scientists and engineers from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and South America who have designed, built and currently maintain the three-story, 3,000-ton PHENIX detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, pronounced rick). The detector acts like a large digital camera that images the remnants of collisions between high-energy beams of nuclei like copper, gold, and uranium. The collaboration was recently listed in 2012's "Guinness Book of World Records" as producing the highest temperature on Earth at over 4 trillion degrees Celsius. While achieving these temperatures is impressive, the underlying motivation is the study of the strong nuclear force. This force, responsible for making protons and neutrons bind in a nucleus, is studied by smashing beams of heavy ions together, creating the high temperatures needed to literally melt the nuclei into their constituent pieces. Since the strong nuclear force is one of only four fundamental interactions, understanding this force will help scientists to understand the fundamental workings of the universe.

Grau has been an active member of the PHENIX collaboration since 2000. While at Augustana during the last three years, he has continued to be involved in analysis of data and has included students in research on campus as well taking them to Brookhaven to work on research on site. Grau's plans for the next few years include building a local laboratory that will test silicon readout electronics. This laboratory can be used for anticipated future detector upgrades to PHENIX. The work, much of which can be done at Augustana, will help physics and pre-engineering students gain valuable experiences in being part of a large collaborative scientific endeavor.