TIGRESS Has Successful First Run, Will Help Answer Mysteries of the Universe

October 12, 2006 - News Release

What makes up the stuff of the universe, from the innards of distant stars to the elements inside you? The answers are a step nearer after the successful startup of a multi-million-dollar instrument considered the “Hubble telescope of nuclear physics” that was developed by an international group of scientists under the direction of a University of Guelph physicist.

The most advanced detector of its kind, the TIGRESS (TRIUMF-ISAC Gamma Ray Escape Suppressed Spectrometer) instrument is housed at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for nuclear and particle physics research in British Columbia.

Guelph professor Carl Svensson said the instrument will help scientists learn how stars cook up the basic elements that make up all matter in the universe. “All the elements you and I and everything else are made up of at some point were cooked up in the interior of some ancient star,” he said, adding that “to understand the origins of the heavier elements, you have to understand nuclear reactions in these stars.” Catastrophic events such as X-ray bursts and stellar explosions then spewed out those elements, which eventually cooled and coalesced into planets, moons and other objects.

This summer saw the first-ever experiment performed with TIGRESS at TRIUMF’s Isotope Separator and Accelerator Complex (ISAC). “The experiment went so smoothly that it was beyond any of our expectations,” said Svensson.

Now midway through a grant to design and build TIGRESS, the U of G-led consortium of about 70 scientists at 17 institutions across Canada, the United States and Europe will take three more years to complete the project. Major components of this first TIGRESS experiment were also designed and built at the Université de Montréal, the University of Rochester in New York and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

“Combined with the most advanced source of exotic nuclei at ISAC, this will provide the world’s best environment for advancing our understanding of the creation of matter in the universe,” said TRIUMF science director Jean-Michel Poutissou.

Last spring, TRIUMF commissioned a new superconducting linear accelerator called ISAC-II, which accelerates exotic atoms for studying nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics. TIGRESS will be the main experimental facility at ISAC-II.

Construction of the TIGRESS array has been funded by a six-year equipment grant worth $8.06 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. NSERC has also provided operating grants worth a total of $1.89 million. The device incorporates technology developed through an award of $800,000 funded jointly in 2002 by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, U of G and TRIUMF.

“Canada’s subatomic physics community continues to blaze a path internationally in designing bold experiments for investigating the universe,” said Isabelle Blain, NSERC vice-president, Research Grants and Scholarships. “NSERC congratulates the TIGRESS team on reaching this major milestone in their project.”

Prof. Carl Svensson, Department of Physics
519 824-4210, Ext. 54573

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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