Nuclear Physics CSN3
The focus of research coordinated by the National Scientific Commission 3 (NSC3) is the structure and dynamics of nuclear matter. Italian nuclear physicists are contributing to the development of experimental techniques for the study of nuclei under extreme conditions. Current experiments exploit collisions between high-energy particles to study how the elementary constituents of matter, quarks, aggregate when forming atomic nuclei. The collision between an electron and a nucleus - as envisaged by the INFN partnership at the Jefferson Lab - will make it possible to have a three-dimensional photograph of the inside of a nucleus, while the collision between lead nuclei - at the CERN in Geneva - can give life for a few moments to a bubble of quark and gluon plasma, a state of matter under extreme conditions of density and temperature, which is presumed to have characterised the Universe in the first ten millionths of a second after the Big Bang. At this primordial stage, the fundamental theory of strong interactions (Chromium-quantum dynamics) predicts that the elementary constituents of matter are unrelated to each other; the nucleus of the atom does not exist and protons and neutrons do not exist.
Experiments conducted with particle accelerators also make it possible to study the mechanisms that regulate the functioning of stars at all stages of their life. Star formation mechanisms, which appeared in the Universe only after the latter had sufficiently expanded and cooled, are being studied at the INFN National Laboratories. At the Gran Sasso National Laboratories, for example, the small accelerator LUNA is able to study the formation of nuclei at energies comparable to those found in a star, much lower than those obtained in normal particle accelerators. Accelerators and detectors among the most sophisticated in the world have been installed at the Legnaro National Laboratories and at the Southern National Laboratories for the production and study of the characteristics of unstable nuclei. One of the primary goals of these experiments is to understand the mechanisms of formation of heavy nuclei, having a mass greater than iron, in large stars.
The study of nuclear force in the presence of “strange” quarks is underway at the Frascati National Laboratories; the study is important, among other things, to understand the behaviour of neutron stars.
In addition to these activities, there are developments for new applications, for example in the field of particle therapy.