Getting a Bang Out of the Experiment



Steven Spielberg, move over. An international team of physicists is recreating a world that existed billions of years before the one portrayed in Jurassic Park.

Using the world's most powerful atom-smasher, the group -- in which researchers from the Institute's Particle Physics Department played a key role -- may have produced a miniature version of the universe as it existed when it was only one microsecond old.

Back then, matter consisted of an extraordinarily hot and dense soup of free-floating elementary particles called quarks and gluons.

As this exotic concoction -- known as a quark-gluon plasma -- cooled and expanded, the particles bonded together and eventually formed atomic nuclei as we know them today.

In an experiment conducted at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva -- managed by Weizmann Prof. Itzhak Tserruya and described in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters -- the scientists have been reversing this scenario.

They used high- energy collisions of atomic nuclei to "melt" these nuclei back into primordial plasma, consisting of loose quarks and gluons.

In addition to the Weizmann Institute research team, two other large groups played a major role in the experiment: one from Heidelberg University, led by Prof. H.J. Specht, and the other from the Max Planck Institut f r Kernphysik at Heidelberg, led by Prof. J.P. Wurm.

This first-ever reconstruction of matter existing during the Big Bang -- the explosion in which the universe is believed to have been created -- is expected to provide valuable insights into the origins and evolution of matter.

Additional Information

Weizmann Institute collaborators in the CERN experiment included Prof. Emeritus Zeev Fraenkel, Dr. Ilya Ravinovich, Guy Tel-Zur, Carlos P. de los Heros and Evgeny Socol. Funding was provided by the Minerva Foundation, the German-Israel Foundation, the Israel Science Foundation and the H. Gurtwirth Fund at the Weizmann Institute.