Heavy Ion Physics student research projects

Energy Loss of Energetic Quarks and Gluons in the Quark-Gluon Plasma

One of the ways to study the quark-gluon plasma that is formed in high-energy nuclear collisions, is using high-energy partons (quarks or gluons) that are produced early in the collision and interact with the quark-gluon plasma as they propagate through it. There are several current open questions related to this topic, which can be explored in a Master's project. For example, we would like to use the new Monte Carlo generator framework JetScape to simulate collisions to see whether we can extract information about the interaction with the quark-gluon plasma. In the project you will collaborate with one of the PhD students or postdocs in our group to use the model to generate predictions of measurements and compare those to data analysis results. Depending on your interests, the project can focus more on the modeling aspects or on the analysis of experimental data from the ALICE detector at the LHC. (contact: M. van Leeuwen, M. Verweij)

Extreme Rare Probes of the Quark-Gluon Plasma

The quark-gluon plasma is formed in high-energy nuclear collisions and also existed shortly after the big bang.  With the large amount of data collected in recent years at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, rare processes that previously were not accessible provide now new ways to study how the quark-gluon plasma emerges from the fundamental theory of strong interaction. One of such processes is the heavy W boson which in many cases decays to two quarks. The W boson itself doesn’t interact with the quark-gluon plasma because it doesn’t carry color, but the quark decay products do interact with the plasma and therefore provide an ideal tool to study the space-time evolution of this hot and dense medium. In this project you will use data from the ALICE detector at the LHC and simulated data from generators to study various physics mechanisms that could be happening in the real collisions. (contact: M. Verweij, M. van Leeuwen)

Jet Quenching with Machine Learning

Machine learning applications are rising steadily as a vital tool in the field of data science but are relatively new in the particle physics community. In this project machine learning tools will be used to gain insights into the modification of a parton shower in the quark-gluon plasma (QGP). The QGP is created in high-energy nuclear collisions and only lives for a very short period of time. Highly energetic partons created in the same collisions interact with the plasma while they travers it and are observed as a collimated spray of particles, known as jets, in the detector.  One of the key recent insights is that the internal structure of jets provides information about the evolution of the QGP. With data recorded by the ALICE experiment, you will use jet substructure techniques in combination with machine learning algorithms to dissect the structure of the QGP. Machine learning will be used to select the regions of radiation phase space that are affected by the presence of the QGP. (contact: M. Verweij, M. van Leeuwen)

Searching for the strongest magnetic field in nature

In case of a non-central collision between two Pb ions, with a large value of impact parameter (b), the charged nucleons that do not participate in the interaction (called spectators) create strong magnetic fields. A back of the envelope calculation using the Biot-Savart law brings the magnitude of this filed close to 10^19Gauss in agreement with state of the art theoretical calculation, making it the strongest magnetic field in nature. The presence of this field could have direct implications in the motion of final state particles. The magnetic field, however, decays rapidly. The decay rate depends on the electric conductivity of the medium which is experimentally poorly constrained. Overall, the presence of the magnetic field, the main goal of this project, is so far not confirmed experimentally. (contact: P. Christakoglou)

Looking for parity violating effects in strong interactions

Within the Standard Model, symmetries, such as the combination of charge conjugation (C) and parity (P), known as CP-symmetry, are considered to be key principles of particle physics. The violation of the CP-invariance can be accommodated within the Standard Model in the weak and the strong interactions, however it has only been confirmed experimentally in the former. Theory predicts that in heavy-ion collisions, in the presence of a deconfined state, gluonic fields create domains where the parity symmetry is locally violated. This manifests itself in a charge-dependent asymmetry in the production of particles relative to the reaction plane, what is called the Chiral Magnetic Effect (CME). The first experimental results from STAR (RHIC) and ALICE (LHC) are consistent with the expectations from the CME, however further studies are needed to constrain background effects. These highly anticipated results have the potential to reveal exiting, new physics. (contact: P. Christakoglou)

Machine learning techniques as a tool to study the production of heavy flavour particles

There was recently a shift in the field of heavy-ion physics triggered by experimental results obtained in collisions between small systems (e.g. protons on protons). These results resemble the ones obtained in collisions between heavy ions. This consequently raises the question of whether we create the smallest QGP droplet in collisions between small systems. The main objective of this project will be to study the production of charm particles such as D-mesons and Λc-baryons in pp collisions at the LHC. This will be done with the help of a new and innovative technique which is based on machine learning (ML). The student will also extend the studies to investigate how this production rate depends on the event activity e.g. on how many particles are created after every collision. (contact: P. Christakoglou and A. Grelli)

Forward Particle Production from the Color Glass Condensate

It has been proposed that a new state of matter (the color-glass condensate, or CGC) may provide a universal description of hadronic collisions (e.g. proton-proton collisions) at very high energy. The CGC may be seen as the classical field limit of Quantum Chromodynamics, and a framework for calculating observables from this state has been developed. Several measurements are consistent with the assumption of a CGC, but no experimental proof exists so far. In this project we intend to perform a systematic study of the sensitivity to the CGC of different possible measurements at the LHC. The work will be performed in close collaboration with an external world expert in this field. It is advantageous to have a good background in theoretical physics. (contact: T. Peitzmann, M. van Leeuwen)

Quantum Coherence in Particle Production with Intensity Interferometry

Intensity interferometry – also known as HBT-effect or Bose-Einstein-correlations – is a method to study the space-time structure of the particle-emitting source in high-energy physics. The main interest so far has been on the width of correlation functions in momentum space, which reflects the space-time information. The strength of the correlation also carries information, but this has been ignored by many people. The correlation strength is in particular influenced by the degree of coherence of particle production. Recently new studies have been performed to extract this degree of coherence, however, many other effects might distort such a measurement, in particular the production of pions via resonance decay. In this project we will study the role of resonance decays for a measurement of coherence in intensity interferometry and try to establish possible correction methods for any distortions they may cause. We will perform theoretical model calculations with Monte-Carlo simulation methods. (contact: T. Peitzmann)

A New Detector for Very High-Energy Photons: FoCal

High-energy photons are important messenger particles in particle physics. In particular direct photons (i.e. directly produced from elementary scattering processes) are interesting, but it is a difficult task to discriminate them from the photons originating from particle decays. Existing detector have limited capabilities for such a discrimination, in particular at the highest energies. Our institute has pioneered a detector based on a new concept, a digital pixel calorimeter with Si-sensors of unprecedented granularity. First proof-of-principle measurements have already been performed. In this project we will study the performance of a particular detector design for measurements of direct photons at the LHC and optimize the design parameters for such a measurement. Performance studies for other measurements – e.g. jets, J/ψ, or ϒ particles – may be carried out in addition. (contact: T. Peitzmann, M. van Leeuwen)

Thermal Photon Emission: Quark-Gluon Plasma or Hadron Gas?

Recently, measurements of thermal photon emission in high-energy nuclear collisions have been performed at RHIC and at LHC. It is generally believed that a quark-gluon plasma equation of state is the natural description of the hot initial phase of these collisions, and so far only theoretical model calculations including such a phase have been compared to those measurements. In this project we will revisit hadron gas models and try to reproduce the thermal photon yield together with other observables. In this work we will use and possibly modify Monte Carlo implementations of relativistic hydrodynamics, tune it to existing data of hadron production and then estimate the photon production from the same model. The model implementation will be based on previous work of external theoretical colleagues and will be carried out in collaboration with them. (contact: T. Peitzmann)

A New Detector for Proton Therapy and Proton Computed Tomography

Conventional imaging of humans in medical treatment relies mostly on electromagnetic radiation (CT, MRT) or positrons (PET). A recently proposed new imaging strategy, in particular in the context of proton therapy for cancer treatment, is to use proton beams. Current detectors for the scattered protons have severe limitations, in particular for their precision and measurement times. New development of intelligent Si-sensors in particle physics offer possibilities to develop much more efficient detectors for such proton CT measurements. We will perform R&D on the use of new silicon pixel detectors developed in the context of the ALICE experiment at CERN for such medical applications. Studies will include Monte-Carlo simulations of a possible detector setup and measurements with the first samples of the appropriate silicon sensors, which will become available in early 2016. The project will be carried out in the context of a scientific collaboration with Bergen University, Norway. (contact: T. Peitzmann)