Nuclear Physics Consolidated Grant (Equipment)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Physics


The atomic nucleus, which forms the tiny massive core at the centre of the atom, is composed of protons and neutrons and each of these particles are themselves comprised of quarks. However, this knowledge does not allow us to make a complete prediction of the behaviour of any given nucleus or isotope. The system is too complex, involving three of the four fundamental forces: the electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear forces. The behaviour of the nucleus is often described as an emergent phenomenon as it cannot be readily predicted from its component parts. This drives theoretical effort and the need to benchmark theory with precision measurements.

Our research is aimed at studying the funadamental properties of atomic nuclei, the origin of elements in the cosmos and applications of nuclear technology. We study nuclei on the very limits of stability, in particular those with an excess of protons, and those which have the same number of protons and neutrons (N=Z nuclei). The N=Z nuclei exhibit special symmetries and deviations from these symmetries tell us very detailed information on the validity of competing nuclear models. Such measurements are very challenging as these nuclei are very difficult to produce in any quantity to perform experiments on. Our programme uses some of the principal facilities for nuclear physics worldwide where such exotic nuclei can be produced. Our work involves studies of how protons and neutrons interact in N=Z nuclei and to what extent the clustering of nucleons (eg into alpha particles) occurs in such nuclei. In our work we aim to addess specific questions related to nuclei residing in three of these regions, (i) N=Z nuclei around mass 70, (ii) deformed nuclei around mass 150 and (iii) nuclei around the neutron deficient lead region, where one of the best examples of nuclear shape co-existence has been observed to date at very low excitation energy. A further aspect of our research into the structure of nuclei concerns their shape. It is a remarkable property of the nucleus that it can adopt different shapes: spherical, oblate (smartie-shaped) and prolate (rugby-ball shaped) often for a small costs in energy. Predicting the shape of a nucleus and how this shape evolves as the nucleus is excited (given more energy) is extremely challenging from a theoretical perspective. Determining nuclear shape experimentally can help to discriminate between competing models of the nucleus and pin down our theoretical understanding. Nuclear structure effects relating to nuclear shapes and the phenomenon of shape co-existence are found in many regions of the chart of the nuclides.

A third strand of our research is into the origin of the chemical elements in stars, and the role played by nuclear physics in this question. Some elements and isotopes are only produced in very hot and exotic events such as exploding stars: novae and supernovae. In these events, a rapid series of nuclear reactions takes place. We seek to understand how rapidly such reactions take place by reproducing them in the laboratory. This is very challenging as many of the nuclei involved in these studies are themselves radioactive and difficult to produce. Nevertheless, we are able to advance our understanding of how the chemical elements are created. The final area of research is into the mechanisms of nuclear fission, with emphasis on exploring how these develop in nuclei that reside away from the well known transactinide region of nuclei which can undergo induced fisson or in the case of the heaviest nuclei even spontaneous fission following their creation. Our data on these new regions of fission, such as in the light mercury isotopes around mass 180, are presenting challenges to the present models of the nuclear fission process. Our proposed work in this area will provide new data on extremely exotic nuclei to help develop the models of the fission process further.

Planned Impact

- Our group is very active in public engagement with a particular focus on continuous professional development for schoolteachers but also the wider public:
- We provide CPD for schoolteachers as part of collaborations with the Science Learning Centre network and the Prince's Teaching Trust. We have interacted with several hundred schoolteachers over the last three years.
- We reach out to the wider public through major public lectures, as well as to local groups such as local astronomy societies
- We foster participation by our PDRAs and postgraduate students in our outreach work

- Our group is active in more applied areas of research which benefit from a cross-fertilisation of ideas with our blue skies research. This includes:
- Work on obtaining neutron-induced cross-sections on actinide nuclei at the nToF facility as part of an EPSRC-funded fission consortium
- We are working on areas connected to medical imaging such as PET/MRI through links with collaborators such as the York Neuroimaging Centre
- we are working with CCFE Culham to make neutron cross-section measurements on materials relevant to future fusion reactors
- we have started to work with companies such as Kromek and NUVIA UK on detector development projects for use in various applications
- We are always on the lookout for ways in which our research can lead to societal benefit such as through knowledge exchange related to our state-of-the-art detector developments

- High quality training is given to PDRAs and postgraduate students, who take this with them to subsequent careers in the nuclear-related industries and the wider economy. Radiation detection and measurement and the abilities to handle large volumes of complex data and perform high quality simulations are important to many key industries and these skillsets will be in increasing demand with the present plans for a new nuclear build.


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Söderström P (2019) Neutron detection and ? -ray suppression using artificial neural networks with the liquid scintillators BC-501A and BC-537 in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment

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Modamio V (2015) Digital pulse-timing technique for the neutron detector array NEDA in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment

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Luo X (2014) Test of digital neutron-gamma discrimination with four different photomultiplier tubes for the NEutron Detector Array (NEDA) in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment

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Egea Canet F (2015) Digital Front-End Electronics for the Neutron Detector NEDA in IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science

Description STFC Consolidated grant
Amount £1,446,999 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/L005727/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2014 
End 09/2018
Description NEDA array 
Organisation National Institute for Nuclear Physics
Department Legnaro National Laboratories
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Studies related to the development of a new neutron array (NEDA) for use with high intensity stable beam and radioactive beam studies, in particular investigations of new readout devices for both solid and liquid scintillator neutron detectors.
Collaborator Contribution Testing, design and charactersiation of new detectors for the new NEDA array.
Impact Design of a full array has been performed. An interim design for a first phase of development of the new array is in the final stages of completion. Publications on monte carlo studies of the NEDA neutron detectors (in Nucl Instr. and Meth A,673, p 64 and a forthcoming publication on neutron-gamma discrimination tests with different photomultipliers (to be published in Nucl Instr. and Meth A767, p83, Dec 14)
Start Year 2010