UCT hosts leader in theoretical high energy physics

Posted on: 22 February 2012
Institution: University of Cape Town
Research Area: Physical Sciences


Smashing good time: Prof Raju Venugopalan (centre), a guest of Prof Heribert Weigert (left) and Dr WA Horowitz, has been talking particle physics at UCT.
Forget everything you've heard about an expanding universe; the truth is that, for high-energy physicists, the world is getting smaller.
Bound by their common interest in smashing particles together to bring to light the secrets of matter and the early universe, a group of UCT physicists has hosted Professor Raju Venugopalan, leader of the nuclear theory group at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York.
At Brookhaven, home to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), renowned as the world's second-highest-energy heavy-ion collider, Venugopalan and others are planning a US$1-billion upgrade to address questions that cannot be answered by the numero uno of particle accelerators, Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Gone are the days when countries like India, where he was born, and South Africa were the backwaters of the science world, says Venugopalan. Not only can students and scientists from across the globe now share in the work of the LHC, RHIC and other such facilities, but developing countries can also "contribute to international science in a big way".
"Every country should try and go as wide as possible," he says, "from pure research to the applied stuff, because that has all kinds of ramifications that are unanticipated."
During his visit to Cape Town, Professor Venugopalan spoke to graduate students on "The hottest stuff on earth: how it's formed, what it’s made of, and how it flows" and “Exploring collective many-body dynamics of the perfect theory: theory meets experiment”.
He addressed a gathering of world-renowned international researchers from nine different countries at a recent week-long workshop at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, and led an open colloquium at UCT on 15 February 2012.
According to UCT lecturer, Dr Will Horowitz, Professor Venugopalan led delegates at the workshop in discussions on the next generation of particle accelerators and new areas of physics still to be explored. He added that UCT researchers were collaborating with colleagues at Brookhaven to develop new breakthroughs in theoretical physics.
“Researchers at UCT and around the world are working to develop theories based on the exciting new results from Brookhaven and the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland,” he said.
One area of interest to Dr Horowitz and his team is the collision of heavier elements such as lead. Dr Horowitz explained: “The Large Hadron Collider tends to be used to collide protons with other protons. When you collide lead on lead, you are smashing together 208 protons and neutrons in a single nucleus with another 208 protons and neutrons in another nucleus. This allows us to investigate the fundamental, emergent properties of hot and dense matter at extremely high energies.”
Dr Horowitz said that the work of the Large Hadron Collider had led to important discussions of “the God particle”, but that this idea was just one of many interesting open questions in theoretical physics. “The next generation of particle collider will provide us with a femtoscope to understand the detailed structure of the nucleus, which makes up 99% of the mass in the visible world,” he stated.
Professor Venugopalan’s visit to UCT was sponsored by the US Department of State as part of a Fulbright grant, following a very competitive application process.
Dr Horowitz said: “Professor Venugopalan is a researcher and academic of Ivy League status. His input on the curriculum in the Department of Physics will ensure that UCT is not only keeping up with international norms but will contribute meaningfully to the next generation of research into high energy physics.”
Background on Raju Venugopalan
Professor Venugopalan received his PhD degree from Stony Brook in 1992 under the supervision of Gerry Brown and M. Prakash. After post-doctoral work at the Theoretical Physics Institute at the University of Minnesota, the National Institute for Nuclear Theory in Seattle, and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, he joined Brookhaven National Lab in 1998. He received tenure in 2002 and was promoted to the position of Senior Scientist in 2007. He is also Adjunct Professor at Stony Brook University.
Professor Venugopalan was a Danish Research Council Fellow (1997-1998), a Fellow of the Riken-BNL Center (RBRC) (2000-2003), and a US Research Fellow of the Humboldt Foundation (2004-2005). He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2007.
Professor Venugopalan is currently an International Scientific Associate of the LHC DISCOVERY Institute in Copenhagen and was recently appointed to serve on the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) of the US Department of Energy. His interests are in QCD at high energies, heavy ion collisions, and non-equilibrium quantum field theory. He is visiting UCT on a Senior Specialist award from the Fulbright Foundation.