ACU students a part of research on matter that birthed the universe

Posted February 19, 2010

Abilene Christian University's physics department gives its students opportunities for research few undergrads students can claim. Since 1999, ACU students and faculty members have been a part of the Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment (PHENIX) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Compelling new findings from this project were recently presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society.

The PHENIX project uses the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), the world’s highest energy density particle accelerator, to study the "perfect" liquid. This remarkable form of matter is created when gold ions crash together at near light speed. Scientists theorize it last existed nearly 13 billion years ago, a mere fraction of a second after the dawn of time.

"The great thing about our students being involved in this work is that they get to apply everything they're learning in the classroom," says Dr. Rusty Towell, chair of the ACU physics department. "They really are participating in world-class research – research that impacts our understanding of the world." 

ACU students have been a part of this experiment since they helped with the construction of detectors in 1999, and have participated in data analysis and equipment monitoring. Many students have even been listed as co-authors on papers published by PHENIX.

Members of ACU's Nuclear Physics Research Group are collaborators on the PHENIX experiment. They include Dr. Rusty Towell, Dr. Michael Daugherity, assistant professor of physics, Dr. Donald Isenhower, professor of physics, Dr. Hai Qu, postdoctoral research scientist, and Shon Watson, department technician and research scientist, as well as five current ACU students and dozens of former students.

"This is an experience you can get at ACU that you can't get at most universities. It sets ACU apart," says Towell.

For more information about ACU's Department of Physics and the research opportunities it provides, visit their website.