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Apr 12, 2017 06:14 AM EDT

Rice University Physicists Learn More About 'Quark Gluon Plasma' [Video]

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Rice University physicists, who are working at Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), have shared new insight about "quark-gluon plasma." It is an exotic state of matter that happens when protons and neutrons melt.

The LHC is the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth. It has the ability to smash together the nuclei of atoms at nearly the speed of light.

The energy released in these collisions is vast and lets physicists recreate the hot, dense conditions that existed early on in the universe. Quark-gluon plasma (QGP), Phys.org reported, is a high-energy soup of particles that is created when protons and neutrons melt at temperatures approaching over a trillion kelvins.

The paper was published in "Physical Review Letters." It was written on behalf of over 2,000 scientists working on the LHC's Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment.

Physicists Wei Li and Zhoudunming (Kong) Tu, from Rice University, proposed a new way of studying a characteristic magnetic property of QGP called the "chiral magnetic effect" (CME). It uses collisions between protons and lead nuclei.

CME is an electromagnetic phenomenon that is a result of quantum mechanics. It is related to topological phases of matter, which is an area of condensed matter physics that has gained attention since it won the Nobel Prize in physics last year.

Two years ago, it was discovered that head-on collisions at LHC between a lead nucleus and a single proton resulted to small amounts of particles that seemed to behave like a liquid. Upon closer investigation, Li and his colleagues found that the collisions were making small amounts of QGP.

When the proton hits the lead nucleus, it punches a hole through the majority of the nucleus. Li added that one unusual thing about the droplets of QGP in proton-lead collisions was the configuration of their magnetic fields. Proton-lead collisions allow researchers to switch off the magnetic field and the CME signal in a QGP in a well-controlled way.

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