Edinburgh Nuclear Physics Group Consolidated Grant Proposal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Physics and Astronomy


The Greeks used to say matter was indivisible. This notion took a beating when Rutherford and co-workers showed that elements could be transformed by nuclear reactions. For a while it was thought that all the elements were produced in the big bang. Scientists such as Bethe and Hoyle showed in fact that nearly all the elements are produced in nuclear reactions in stars, which also for example make our sun shine. We are still seeking to understand the means by which these elements are produced and how stars evolve during their lifetime. This problem is being addressed through new detailed observations of stellar chemical abundances in the cosmos with telescopes, and here on earth, by trying to re-create the reactions occurring in stars.

Elements can be produced by nuclear reactions in highly explosive, hot dense environments such as found in supernovae explosions, with the material subsequently thrown out into the cosmos, and eventually fetching up in locations such as our sun or the interstellar medium. In explosive environments it is the reactions and properties of unstable nuclei that are critical for understanding element production and energy generation in these processes. One can make an analogy with a river in full flood bursting its banks and then flowing in completely different directions: normally life is quiescent and stable, but it is often in these violent episodes that permanent imprints remain. New generation accelerator facilities are able to produce an increasingly large number of the key radioactive nuclear species involved in these explosive processes. So we can now study the reactions occurring in the stars and the subsequent decay paths of nuclei that end up in the stable isotopes we see around us. The elemental abundances of these stable isotopes provide coded information on their often violent history. This new information is required to discover the nature of the explosive environments in which such elements were first formed.

In the longer quiescent phase of stars, their evolution is controlled by nuclear reactions occurring at much lower temperatures and densities, and which involve stable isotopes. You might think these would be easier to study, but because the reactions occur at much lower temperatures and densities nuclear fusion is strongly inhibited by the repulsions between the positively charged nuclei, and can only take place with very low probability by quantum tunneling. This leads to low experimental yields, and the signature for the fusion reaction is swamped by reactions produced by cosmic rays. So we are now working at the only underground nuclear astrophysics accelerator laboratory in the world where the rock above forms a protective canopy for our experiments.

The structure of stars is intimately tied to the structure of nuclear matter. Neutron stars, a relic of supernovae explosions can usefully be viewed as gigantic nuclei held together by the gravitational force. Precision experiments we are performing with high energy point-like fundamental particle beams are revealing a skin of almost pure neutron matter around the nucleus whose precise thickness tells us about the likely structure of neutron stars. These beams also allow us to peer inside a proton and explore the different ways the quarks inside can re-arrange themselves. These arrangements take the form of different excited states known as nucleon resonances. We think we have a good theory, QCD, to understand the proton but in fact it predicts many more resonances than we observe, so we are going to search for the new ones! Even more exotic configurations, are the so-called hybrids, in which the glue binding quarks together combines with quarks to produce a new form of matter. This would be a major discovery.

Planned Impact

This proposal outlines a wide-ranging, innovative and internationally competitive research programme. The delivery of this programme depends critically on the group's 25+ years of intellectual investment in, and exploitation of, state of the art experimental techniques using advanced silicon radiation detector and instrumentation technologies.

The requirements of the UK nuclear physics research programme have led to the development of large area silicon strip detectors using both very thin (c. 20 micron) and very thick ( > 1mm) wafers which are now commercially available from the UK company Micron Semiconductor Ltd. These capabilities provide Micron Semiconductor Ltd with a range of unique product features and access to a large, worldwide export market.

Our continuing collaboration with the STFC Daresbury and Rutherford Laboratories in the development of advanced instrumentation systems (e.g. Advanced Implantation Detector Array - AIDA) directly benefits the UK science base by providing access to advanced technology for applications and maintains core skills and expertise for the UK science community.

The research and development programme for the Edinburgh nucleon polarimeter at MAMI has prompted new ideas for improving Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging. This has led to the award of STFC Follow on Funding and direct collaboration with clinicians and medical physicists.

Within the BRIKEN collaboration, we will measure beta-delayed neutron emission probabilities (Pn-values) for a large number of unstable isotopes for the first time. Pn-values affect the dynamic time response and the decay-heat in nuclear reactors, so this experimental programme will provide necessary nuclear data from the point of view of nuclear reactor operation and safety, and for the design of future reactors with advanced fuel cycles.

The nuclear physics research programme provides excellent training opprtunities for PhD students. The size and scope of nuclear physics experiments means that PhD students must actively engage with all of the scientific and technical aspects of the experiments from beam transport to the experimental target, to the analysis and interpretation of experimental data, and all points in between. The research programme produces young scientists with a wide range of scientific and technical competencies with employment opportunities in industry, business and academia.


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Description discovered key resonance for destruction of cosmic gamma ray emitter

developed new transfer reaction technique, first results show dramatic effect on abundances of heavy elements in novae ejecta

studied destruction of cosmic gamma ray emitter by neutron destruction

developed new storage ring technique to measure p process reactions
Exploitation Route the findings will be used in stellar models
Sectors Other