News Release

New results from the RHIC Spin Program

APS Division of Nuclear Physics meeting will feature latest results on contributions of quarks and gluons and future measurement opportunities at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)

Reports and Proceedings

American Physical Society

New Results From the RHIC Spin Program

image: Studies have revealed a puzzle about how the inner building blocks of a proton, known as quarks (colored spheres) and gluons (yellow “springs”), contribute to proton spin. Experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory are helping to solve this mystery. view more 

Credit: Credit: Courtesy Brookhaven National Laboratory

UPTON, NY—Where does the proton get its spin? This question has puzzled physicists ever since experiments in the 1980s revealed that a proton’s constituent quarks—the most fundamental building blocks of atomic nuclei—account for only about one-third of a proton’s spin. Collisions of spin-polarized protons at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility for nuclear physics research at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, are helping to solve this mystery.

Nicole Lewis, a Brookhaven Lab physicist, will present the latest results from the RHIC spin program in an invited talk at the 2021 Fall Meeting of the APS Division of Nuclear Physics on October 12, 2021. The results will be published the same day in Physical Review Letters.

“RHIC is the first and only collider in the world that is able to run polarized proton beams,” Lewis said. “This means that spin-measurements can be done at higher collision energies compared to earlier fixed target experiments such as those that revealed the initial spin mystery. In collisions where the proton’s spin points in the direction of the beam (longitudinally polarized), we can study how much of the proton spin is due to the spins of its constituent quarks and gluons.”

Lewis will present new measurements of quark and gluon contributions to proton spin based on data from RHIC’s STAR and PHENIX detectors. Gluons are the gluelike force-carrier particles that effectively “glue” quarks together inside protons and other hadrons. RHIC is the first facility that allows detailed studies of gluons’ spin contribution.

Lewis’ talk will also include new results from transversely polarized proton collisions—where proton spin is aligned in an “upward” direction. These collisions allow scientists to probe the three-dimensional internal structure of the proton. 

In addition, Lewis will discuss future spin measurement opportunities using a recent “forward upgrade” to STAR and the upcoming sPHENIX experiment—a major transformation of PHENIX—which is scheduled to begin collecting data in 2023.  

Research at RHIC is funded primarily by the DOE Office of Science (NP).  

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit


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The Division of Nuclear Physics (DNP), established in 1966, is comprised of scientists and educators who study fundamental problems related to the nature of matter. Nuclear scientists probe the properties of nuclei and nuclear matter and the interactions of their ultimate constituents — quarks and gluons. They also address interdisciplinary questions: the basis of fundamental symmetries in nature, the first moments of the universe, the origin of the elements, education, and the application of nuclei and nuclear techniques to meet societal needs including medical diagnoses and treatment, energy, advanced materials, and Homeland Security. DNP interests have significant overlap with other APS Divisions, Topical Groups and Forums.

The American Physical Society (APS) is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 55,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, Maryland (Headquarters), Ridge, New York, and Washington, DC.


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