You could say that exploring the underpinnings of our everyday world at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) really resonates with Raul Briceno. In fact, he has just been honored by his colleagues for his research on resonances in nuclear matter.
Currently Jefferson Lab's Nathan Isgur Research Fellow, Briceno was presented with the 2017 Kenneth G. Wilson Award for Excellence in Lattice Field Theory on June 22. The award citation noted his "groundbreaking contributions to the study of resonances using lattice QCD."
"The vast majority of stuff that we see in nature that gives us insight into how things work at the fundamental level are resonances. And so, if we want to understand nuclear physics at its core, we have to think about these short-lived states," he said. "They play an important role in the early stages of the universe, in experiments in different facilities, and in the formation of stars and planets, because they're just present in so many reactions."
Briceno studies resonances that are present inside the heart of matter. He works with his colleagues to probe them directly from the theory of the particles and forces that build our universe at the scale of protons and neutrons inside atoms: Quantum Chromodynamics.
"The stuff that we are made out of - the nuclei of atoms - are made up of protons and neutrons, and they themselves are made up of other particles, called quarks and gluons. There's different manifestations of how these quarks and gluons come together," he explained. "Some of them are protons and neutrons, but then there's more exotic ones - they're the short-lived states, and most of these are so-called resonances."
Briceno says while nuclear physicists have long studied these short-lived resonances in experiments, it's been difficult to study them from the theory. However, new inroads in lattice Quantum Chromodynamics, or lattice QCD, is allowing scientists to take aim at resonances by potentially modeling them in numerical studies of QCD using supercomputers. His most recent work is focused on making that research possible.
"A lot of nuclear physics that we're interested in, we don't even know how to do on the lattice. So a big portion of what I've been doing is just developing the technology, which is mostly mathematical work," he said.
Briceno accepted the award at the 35th International Symposium on Lattice Field Theory, held in Granada, Spain.
"Obviously, it's an honor. Science is teamwork; it's a community effort. I work with people who are phenomenal, and I contribute, and I put a lot of hours, but so do they all. So, I appreciate that my colleagues nominated me and recognize my efforts," he said.
According to the most current award nomination announcement, the Kenneth G. Wilson Award for Excellence in Lattice Field Theory is given annually and consists of a certificate citing the contributions of the recipient, a modest monetary award, and an invitation to present the cited work in a short plenary talk at the International Symposium on Lattice Field Theory. The award recognizes outstanding physicists who are within seven years of completing their Ph.D. and considers a single piece of work or the sum of several contributions.
Jefferson Lab is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. 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, please visit science.energy.gov.
Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.