Physicists High-Precision Test of Nuclear Theory Using Mirror Nuclei

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Mirror Nuclei

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An accuracy measurement of helium and hydrogen mirror isotopes exposes brand-new concerns in understanding of nuclear structure. Credit: DOE’s Jefferson Lab

An accuracy measurement of helium and hydrogen mirror isotopes exposes brand-new concerns in understanding of nuclear structure.

It’s rarely in nuclear physics that you can plainly get both sides of the story, however a current experiment permitted scientists to do simply that. They compared extremely comparable nuclei to each other to get a clearer view of how the parts of nuclei are organized and discovered that there’s still more to learn more about the heart of matter. The research study, performed at the Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, was just recently released as an editors’ recommended read in Physical Review Letters.

“We want to study nuclear structure, which is basically how protons and neutrons behave inside a nucleus,” discusses Reynier Cruz-Torres, a postdoctoral scientist at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who dealt with the experiment as a college student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “To do that, we can measure any nucleus that we want. But to do a high-precision test of nuclear theory, we are limited to light nuclei that have precision calculations. Measuring these light nuclei is a benchmark for understanding nuclear structure in general.”

For this measurement, the scientists concentrated on 2 of the easiest and lightest nuclei in deep space: helium and hydrogen. They concentrated on an isotope of helium called helium-3, so called since it consists of simply 3 significant parts: 2 protons and one neutron. The isotope of hydrogen that they checked, tritium, is likewise made up of 3 parts: one proton and 2 neutrons.

“They are mirror nuclei. So, you can assume that the protons in helium-3 are basically the same as the neutrons in tritium and vice versa,” states Florian Hauenstein, a joint postdoctoral scientist at Old Dominion University and MIT.

According to the scientists, by comparing these fairly easy nuclei, they can get a window into the strong nuclear interactions that can’t be duplicated in other places. That’s since as a few of the lightest and least made complex of the nuclei in deep space, these nuclei are outstanding examples for comparing to the advanced theories that explain the standard structures of various nuclei.

“The theory calculations have been there for a while, but we didn’t know how good they are,” discusses Dien Nguyen, a postdoctoral scientist at MIT and inbound Nathan Isgur Fellow in Nuclear Experiment at Jefferson Lab. ”So, with this research study, we have the ability to quantitatively state how great the estimation is. I believe that is a truly essential action.”

To make the contrast, the scientists determined both nuclei in high-precision experiments in the Continuous Electronic Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF), a DOE User Facility based at Jefferson Lab.

Electrons from CEBAF were targeted at the nuclei of tritium and helium-3, where some engaged with the nuclei’s protons. The struck protons and the engaging electrons were then recorded and determined in big detectors called spectrometers in Jefferson Lab’s Experimental Hall A.

“We use the spectrometers to study the properties of those final-state particles and look back to the nucleus and try to understand what was happening inside the nucleus before the reaction took place,” states Cruz-Torres.

This experiment was challenging and groundbreaking because it was carried out at a broader series of energies with extraordinary accuracy. In addition, the tritium information are the extremely very first for these studying these responses.

The scientists then compared the complete series of information from the experiments to theory computations on the structures of the nuclei of helium-3 and tritium. They discovered that the information usually matched theory well for both nuclei to the accuracy permitted by experiment, an accomplishment that was explained by one scientist as an accomplishment of modern-day nuclear physics. However, distinctions were likewise observed relative to a few of the computations, suggesting that more improvements in the theoretical treatments are needed.

“We expected that the helium-3 calculations at the end would easily match the data, but it actually turned out that the tritium cross section fit very well the theory calculation, and the helium-3 not so much through the whole range. So, we need to go back and look at helium-3,” discusses Hauenstein.

Dien validates that this unanticipated outcome is now the incentive for continuing these high-precision research studies of light nuclei in earnest.

“Before, we thought we had a very good understanding of the calculations,” states Nguyen. “But now, the result is what is driving us to do an even more detailed measurement, because we want to make sure that we have a good agreement with the theory.”

Reference: “Probing Few-Body Nuclear Dynamics through 3H and 3He (e,ep)pn Cross-Section Measurements” by R. Cruz-Torres et al. (Jefferson Lab Hall A Tritium Collaboration), 26 May 2020, Physical Review Letters.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.212501



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