Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

September 03, 2003

$8-million grant will advance work in subatomic physics

A University of Guelph physicist and collaborators from across the country have received an $8-million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to construct a sophisticated new “microscope” that will allow them to look deeply into the heart of the atom.

Prof. Carl Svensson is leading the team of Canadian scientists that will construct a gamma-ray spectrometer at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics in Vancouver. Called TIGRESS (TRIUMF-ISAC Gamma-Ray Escape Suppressed Spectrometer), the spectrometer is named for the accelerator to which it will be connected – the Isotope Separator and Accelerator (ISAC). ISAC produces world-record intensity rare ion beams, and a new ISAC-II facility currently under construction at TRIUMF will increase the range and energy of accelerated radioactive beams available for fundamental physics experiments.

“TIGRESS will measure the high-frequency light emitted when atomic nuclei produced at ISAC make transitions from one quantum energy level to another,” said Svensson, whose work in subatomic physics is helping transform thinking and research in his field. “By studying this light, you learn about the inner workings of the atomic nucleus.” Many of the nuclear reactions involved in the creation of the chemical elements during the explosions of stars, for example, have never been measured because the reacting nuclei were too short lived for experiments to be performed. TIGRESS and ISAC will allow researchers to directly study the properties of many of the nuclei involved in these reactions for the first time, Svensson said.

“This spectrometer will be unique internationally, and when you combine it with the new facilities at TRIUMF, we will have the premiere radioactive ion beam centre in the world right here in Canada,” he said. “We have gone to great lengths with TIGRESS to design an extremely versatile device that will allow us to explore a broad range of open questions in subatomic physics.”

Some of the questions that Svensson and researchers from TRIUMF and five other universities – Laval, McMaster, Montreal, Simon Fraser and Toronto – plan to investigate include how the atomic nucleus responds to the stresses of rapid rotation, the detailed pathways by which the chemical elements are synthesized in explosive astrophysical events, the interactions of elementary particles, and the origin of imbalance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. New gamma-ray detector technologies developed for TIGRESS are also likely to find broader applications in society, particularly in fields such as diagnostic nuclear medicine.

The $8-million NSERC equipment grant will be allocated over six years. “I am delighted that with this award, Carl and his colleagues have been able to elevate Canada’s efforts in subatomic physics to a world-stature level of greatness,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “Without NSERC’s commitment it simply would not have been possible. It’s an exciting time for Carl and the entire physics department at U of G.”

Svensson, who joined U of G faculty in 2001, is the recipient of a John Charles Polanyi Prize, which recognizes early but significant and innovative work, and a Premier’s Research Excellence Award, designed to help gifted young scholars advance inventive research. His work is also supported by grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s New Opportunities’ program, the Ontario Innovation Trust and Research Corporation’s Research Innovation Award.

Prior to joining U of G, Svensson worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California as an NSERC post-doctoral fellow, where he made important contributions to understanding collective motions and the occurrence of extreme deformations in light nuclei.

Prof. Carl Svensson
Department of Physics
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 54573

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