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The Hottest Liquid on the Planet

Probing the properties of a superhot, ‘perfect’ liquid, quark-gluon plasma

EVENT: How do scientists study tiny specks of a liquid that last less than ten millionths of a billionth of a billionth of a second at a temperature more than 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun? And what could such a substance have in common with ultra-cold atomic gases and strongly correlated condensed matter? Find out from Barbara Jacak, a physicist at Stony Brook University and spokesperson for the PHENIX experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a 2.4-mile circular particle accelerator at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, where this “perfect” liquid is created in atom-scale smashups of gold ions traveling at nearly the speed of light.

WHEN: Monday, March 21, 2011, 4:18 p.m. Central Time

WHERE: March 2011 American Physical Society meeting, Dallas Convention Center, Dallas, TX, Ballroom C1.

BACKGROUND: Scientists generally expect high-temperature matter to act like a gas. However, nature sometimes holds surprises. Collisions of heavy nuclei at very high energies at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) have produced a plasma of quarks and gluons — the components of ordinary protons and neutrons — which behaves like a strongly coupled liquid. This liquid’s vanishingly small shear viscosity to entropy density ratio means it flows essentially without resistance, making it one of the most “perfect” liquids known. The strong coupling requires novel theoretical methods to understand the dynamics of this liquid. Surprisingly, ideas arising from string theory provide such tools. Jacak will describe how scientists study the “perfect” liquid, what they have learned about its properties at RHIC in the U.S., what they have yet to figure out, and provide a first look at the plasma created at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The connection of the hottest liquid on the planet to the coldest atomic systems is an area of active, interdisciplinary research that Jacak will also describe.

Research at RHIC is funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and by various national and international collaborating institutions.

2011-1249  |  Media & Communications Office

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