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Colliding Ions at BNL

Superconducting magnets in the RHIC tunnel

Superconducting magnets in the RHIC tunnel

At Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, more than 1,500 physicists from around the world study what the universe may have looked like in the first few moments after its creation. RHIC is a particle accelerator in which two beams of heavy ions (the nuclei of atoms like gold that have been stripped of electrons) whiz around in opposite directions at energies called “relativistic” because they approach the speed of light.

RHIC began colliding ions in the summer of 2000 with 1,740 superconducting magnets guiding the beams around the 2.4-mile underground tunnel. If the conditions are right, these collisions “melt” the protons and neutrons that make up the nuclei releasing for a brief instant, their constituent quarks and gluons. The energy of the collision creates thousands of new particles that stream out to RHIC’s detectors. Each of these particles provides a clue as to what occurred inside the collision zone.

What scientists learn from RHIC helps us understand more about why the physical world works the way it does. The information can be applied in nuclear, particle, and condensed matter physics, as well as in the study of stars, planets, and our universe.

2011-2735  |  INT/EXT  |  Media & Communications Office

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