Research in Nuclear Physics

The research of the nuclear physics group explores matter on the sub-atomic scale. The nucleus, at the heart of the atom is incredibly dense and complex. Quarks and gluons form hadrons; the protons and neutrons that form the building blocks of all the matter on earth. The spectrum of topics that we research covers basics questions about the state of matter in the early universe, how the elements are made in stars, the shape and size of nuclei as well as applications such as nuclear reactor design and modelling, through to medical imaging and particle tracking in industrial applications. The various research areas are outlined in more detail below.

Exotic Nuclei

Exotic nuclei are studied by charged-particle spectroscopy in the group. Energy levels in nuclei comprised of sub-clusters of protons and neutrons are synthesised in the laboratory. These states are responsible for providing the gateway to production of the elements in stars. (You can read about this topic in more detail here.) Other aspects of the group's work involve understanding the structure of nuclei at the interface between the slow- and fast- neutron capture processes that take place in supernovae and investigating nuclei far from stability using 'knockout' reactions. The group travels extensively, performing experiments at laboratories in Australia, the US and Europe.

Laser Spectroscopy

By bombarding beams of slow moving exotic nuclei with a finely tuned optical or ultraviolet laser beam, the interaction between atomic electrons and the nucleus can be probed in detail. These experiments give precise information about the size and shape of the nucleus and can be applied to very short-lived species, down to milliseconds. Using this technique, the nuclear magic numbers can be explored over large changes in the number of protons and neutrons to look for changing shell structure. Also, long-lived excited states, that play a role in stellar processes, can be studied in exquisite detail.

Quark-Gluon Plasmas

The relativistic heavy-ion group at Birmingham uses the world's most powerful particle accelerators to study nuclear matter at extreme temperatures and pressures, mimicking the conditions of the early universe. The group harnesses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern using the ALICE detector, dedicated to making and characterising quark-gluon plasmas; a perfect liquid of 'free' quarks and gluons. This new state of matter is also studied using the STAR detector at the RHIC accelerator facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US.

Positron Imaging

The positron imaging group applies cutting edge physics techniques to solving real world problems. The Nuclear Research Group's MC40 cyclotron is used to produce positron-emitting isotopes that are used to tag tracer particles both for studying real-time flow in industrial processes and for diagnosis in hospitals around the country. By detecting the back-to-back emission of gamma-rays that follow the annihilation of a positron and electron pair, imaging with millimetre precision in applications ranging from the lubricant distribution in engines and dynamic studies of fluid flow through geological samples is possible. More information can be found at the Positron Imaging Centre.

Nuclear Power Technology

The group studies a broad range of nuclear power technology areas ranging from fusion research at Culham, examining neutron transport and radiation damage, to the assessment of intermediate level waste drums through their neutron and gamma-ray emission. A large part of the research is conducted at various sites around the UK and the group works in close collaboration with industrial partners. The research of the nuclear power technology group runs side-by-side with the MSc course on the Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors, the longest running course of its type in the UK. The group has strong links with the newly established The Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research.

We offer PhDs in all of these research areas.