Brookhaven Lab tapped for ‘one-of-a-kind’ ion collider

Collider will show 3-D images of the building blocks of all matter


Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy named Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton as the site for a new Electron-Ion Collider. The facility will be used to study the relationship between the basis of all matter, electrons and protons.

According to a statement from BNL, the EIC will be funded by the federal government through the DOE Office of Science, drawing on expertise from throughout the DOE national laboratory complex and at universities and research institutions around the world, including Stony Brook University, a managing partner of Brookhaven Lab. Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) in Newport News, Va., is expected to be a major partner in the project and make significant contributions.

“The EIectron-Ion Collider will open up a new frontier in nuclear physics that will expand our knowledge of the fundamental constituents of the atoms that make up all visible matter in the universe today and the force that holds it all together,” said Brookhaven Lab director Doon Gibbs. “We look forward to working with Jefferson Lab, other DOE labs, universities and the worldwide EIC user community — about 1,000 scientists from 30 nations — to deliver the EIC and advance this important field of science,” Gibbs said. 

The world-leading science that an EIC will achieve will impact health and medicine, national security, nuclear energy, radioisotope production and industrial uses of particle beams, according to BNL.

“This cutting edge project will inject billions of dollars and an extensive number of jobs into New York’s First Congressional District, all while churning out scores of scientific discoveries that help us understand the world around us,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Patchogue).

A project 20 years in the making

“It’s very exciting,” said Abhay Deshpande, a professor at Stony Brook University and a leader in Brookhaven Lab’s Electron-Ion Collider effort.

Deshpande has spent 20 years working to have the Electron-Ion Collider project come to fruition. He said it’s a key piece of technology in order to understand the building blocks of the universe. He added that scientists have spent 50 years trying to come up with answers for these complex questions.

“We don’t know many, many things about this structure,” Deshpande said of the protons his team will be studying.

It not only took decades to happen, but hundreds of people from around the world have had their hand in this project. Deshpande said it took 1,000 people from 180 locations in 30 countries to contribute to the initiative. When it’s built, the collider will be the only one of its kind in the world, and researchers will be able to visit and use the machine for their studies. 

The collider came about after researchers like Deshpande couldn’t find answers to questions they had on the proton. They knew it was made up of quarks and gluons, but they didn’t know where they came from or how they came together to make the proton. About 20 years ago, researchers realized they needed a “soft collision” of protons and electrons so that the particles wouldn’t get destroyed and scientists could essentially perform an MRI on the proton. They’ve spent the last 15 to 20 years developing the technology to get it done.

“This is the only machine in the world that will do these kinds of experiments,” Deshpande said.

After those experiments are done, the results will be published and handed over to theoretical physicists, who then will look to establish ideas about what was found. Deshpande expects the first experiments with the collider to be performed in 2030, give or take, depending on funding and resources.


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