Physics Prof and Student Research Neutrons

An experiment analyzing the internal structure of neutrons at the Department of Energy’s Jefferson Laboratory will shed more precise light on how nuclei form and interact. Will Tireman (Physics, pictured) said the data collection will lead to a “greater understanding of the stars, sun and beginning of all matter in the universe.”

Research on the tiny particles might also lead to visionary applications for computing technology, which he said is rapidly approaching the physical limit of how much smaller electronic devices can get. 

“The common belief, which we learn in high school and through early college, is that neutrons are neutral. The reality is that they are internally charged, but with equal parts positive and negative so the net charge is zero,” said Tireman. “We’re trying to improve on previous measurements of the charge distribution by shrinking the degree of uncertainty in the measurments. It’s important to look at where the charge is distributed in order to see how neutrons interact with each other and with protons.”

Tireman and physics student Brad Schoenrock polished 18 neutron detectors at NMU, then joined collaborators from Kent State University-where Tireman earned his doctorate-at the Jefferson Laboratory in Newport News, Va. Over four days in January, they received training in safety protocols, the management structure of the lab and radiation safety for high-energy particles. They also helped to complete the assembly of neutron detectors required for the project. Those same detectors will be used by Tireman and his collaborators in 2010 for a separate experiment measuring another aspect of nuclear force.

Tireman and Schoenrock (left) are scheduled to return to the lab in May to collect data, barring any monetary roadblock.  

“We’re hopeful that this experiment won’t be cut," said Tireman. "The funding is part of the federal stimulus package because it’s a Department of Energy-sponsored project."

Analyzing the internal structure of neutrons is a continuation of Tireman’s work as a graduate student at Kent State. Now he is sharing the opportunity with one of his students..

"I think it is pretty amazing that an undergraduate from NMU can have an opportunity like this," added Schoenrock. "I feel that I gained a sense of what a research lab is like and hopefully I will get the opportunity to work in a similar facility one day."


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Updated: February 20, 2009

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