RHIC Results Make Headlines at Quark Matter 2004

Physicists from the four experimental collaborations collecting data at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) presented their latest results and analyses at the Quark Matter 2004 meeting held in Oakland, California, January 11 – 17. The Quark Matter meeting is an international affair, drawing upwards of 650 physicists to discuss the latest findings on heavy ion physics from facilities around the world.

The RHIC presentations were marked by various bits of corroborative evidence that collisions of gold ions at the Brookhaven accelerator are producing an extremely dense, “sticky” form of matter, quite possibly the postulated quark-gluon plasma, which scientists believe last existed a few microseconds after the Big Bang. There was also animated discussion about other intriguing physics results, including the possibility that RHIC experiments have detected the presence of another dense form of matter, known as color glass condensate, in RHIC’s gold ions before collisions take place, and possibly, also, an exotic type of particle containing five quarks.

“We have quite a lot of intriguing results, but it may take some time to sort out their significance in relation to the search for quark gluon plasma or other new discoveries,” said Sam Aronson, chairman of Brookhaven’s Physics Department and a collaborator on RHIC.

Others were not quite so conservative. Scientists quoted in stories appearing after the first day of the conference in the Oakland Tribune and the New York Times, respectively, all but declared that discoveries of quark gluon plasma and color glass condensate had been made. But the general tenor of the physicists at the conference was less focused on answering such yes or no questions, and more concerned with probing the observed phenomena and understanding the detailed properties of what is being created at RHIC, which all agree behaves as a new form of matter.

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