Physics Department


High Energy Nuclear Physics

Research opportunities for undergraduates!

Muhlenberg students now have the rare opportunity to enjoy the benefits of both a small liberal arts education and research experience at one of the top facilities in the world.

Six Nobel Prizes have been awarded for discoveries made at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and five of the six prizes have been awarded for work done in the field of particle physics. BNL continues in its role at the forefront of science with the work done at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC).

Aerial View of RHIC

Check out and read the following articles to learn more about the physics of RHIC: May, 2006 Article in Scientific American: The First Few Microseconds and October, 2003 article in Physics Today: What Have We Learned From the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider?

Muhlenberg College is a member institution of PHENIX, one of the two largest research collaborations that use RHIC. As such, we have a large number of research opportunities for our students that are currently unavailable at most small liberal arts colleges. For example consider this list of collaborating PHENIX institutions, and note that there is only one other liberal arts college on the list.

Specific role of Muhlenberg:

We are currently in the process of assisting the collaboration in the development and implementation of an upgrade to the PHENIX detector, the "Muon Trigger Upgrade."

Last summer, five undergraduates performed research at BNL: Jonathan Ben Benjamin, David Broxmeyer, Caitlin Harper, Steven Motschwiller, and Thalassa Sodre. In both 2007 and 2008, four students accompanied Dr. Fadem to the lab.

Below is an event reconstruction of a collision in the PHENIX detector.


Shown below is an animation of a simulated lower energy collision between a proton and a beryllium nucleus. The red particles that emerge represent new particles that are created in the collison. The simulation was created using the UrQMD (Ultra-relativistic Quantum Molecular Dynamics) code. Snapshots of the postions of the particles were generated using code written by B. Fadem in the Physics Department and the animation was created by G. Benjamin of the Computer Science Department at Muhlenberg College.

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Smaller local projects are also undertaken. For example, last year, two students constructed a small, portable muon detector. Muons are elementary particles that are created from high energy collisions in the upper atmosphere. Vast arrays of muon detectors can be used together to form a cosmic ray telescope.