Manchester Nuclear Physics Consolidated Grant 2020

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


Nuclear Physics aims to understand the structure and dynamics of nuclear systems. It is the key to understanding the Universe from the first microseconds of its inception when the quark-gluon plasma prevailed, through its history of star and galaxy formation where nuclear reactions play an essential role both in the generation of energy and the creation of elements. The field also has applications that benefit society in diverse areas, from medicine and security to power production, and a strong impact on other fields of science. The Manchester group is part of the UK nuclear community which has devised a mode of operation that enables it to make leading edge contributions at an international level. Experimental work is performed at specific overseas facilities with focussed investment in the necessary instrumentation to carry out this work.

Atomic nuclei are a unique quantal laboratory in which microscopic as well as mesoscopic features, driven by effective two-body and three-body forces, can be studied. They are complex many-body systems, but often display unexpected regularities and simple excitation patterns that arise from underlying shell structure, pairing and collective modes of excitation. Such properties are also exhibited by simpler mesoscopic systems (for example, metallic clusters, quantum dots, and atomic condensates) the understanding of which draws heavily on techniques developed and honed in nuclear physics. A fundamental challenge is to understand nuclear properties ab-initio from the interplay of the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces between individual nucleons. In recent years, enormous progress has been made with such programmes for light nuclei. For heavier nuclei, shell, cluster and other beyond mean field many-body techniques, based on effective interactions, provide essential frameworks for correlating experimental data, yet still lack the refinement to reliably predict nuclear properties as one moves more than a few nucleons from well-studied stable nuclei. Experimental measurements are made using the techniques of transfer reactions, gamma-ray spectroscopy and measurements of hyperfine atomic effects using lasers.

We also aim to make connections between the interactions of nucleons and the underlying theory that describes the strong force, Quantum Chromodynamics. Key quantities are the polarisabilities that describe how the structures of nucleons respond to external electric and magnetic fields. We are developing theoretical tools to determine these from experiments on the scattering of photons from hydrogen and other light nuclei. The latter are needed to learn about the the properties of the neutron since it is an unstable particle, and are also interesting for the testing of nuclear forces in few-body systems and for the calculation of muonic atom Lamb shifts.

Planned Impact

Trained manpower at postgraduate and postdoctoral levels is in great demand in nuclear, software and instrumentation industries. Young scientists trained within academic nuclear physics are the only source of independent expertise in areas concerning radioactivity and radiation detection. The importance of this expertise can only increase in the future as the UK moves into its new nuclear build programme. The Nuclear Industrial Strategy recognises the key enablers will be an increase in nuclear R&D and development of nuclear skills. Handling and disposal of nuclear wastes, reactor decommissioning and advanced reactor designs will become even more important issues in society. The research undertaken will also directly inform the teaching of undergraduates at Manchester who will benefit from advanced courses involving examples from topical, current research issues.
Since nuclear physics is the fundamental science underpinning the nuclear sector, our expertise developed in research
projects such as these allows us to host for a major postgraduate training programmes as the Coordinating Centre for NTEC (Nuclear Technology Education Consortium involving 8 UK universities providing Masters-level courses to the nuclear industry) . We deliver core and options modules for NTEC,.
All members of the group, including academics, research fellows, PDRAs and PhD students, undertake public engagement activities. The members of the academic staff have a strong track record in outreach and have built up experience and a good reputation that can be used to good effect. They are regularly featured on local, national and foreign radio stations to address general issues, as well as for the direct promotion of their research to the general public. Research staff and students are less experienced, yet highly committed, and training is encouraged. Members of the group are also active in various CERN- based public engagement activities.
Group members have also been able to influence UK and International Policy on nuclear related issues via participation in select committee activities and by representing the UK at a variety of international meetings related to the nuclear industry and skills.
Nuclear data and technological expertise in the group will be used to make measurements relevant to the nuclear industry by improving a variety of important nuclear cross sections. This will feed into the Joint European Fission-Fusion database, used throughout the nuclear industry to improve safety and economics of current and future operations, and of the design of advanced reactors and geological disposal facilities.
Group members are involved in several projects to improve SPECT imaging at the Christie hospital, with potential to commission commercial software. The group has supported medical research using short-lived positron emitters at the Wolfson Medical Imaging Centre, by joint supervision of MPhys and MSc students. We have a longer term strategy to work with a local company to develop new X-ray imaging techniques.
The group has recently spun out a company to harness CRIS laser techniques for mass spectrometry and atom counting for a range of applications. The company is set up and the next step is underway to develop a demonstration device and pursue further funding.


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