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Odd geometric shapes can be produced with the quark-gluon plasma created in the PHENIX Detector particle collider © Javier Orjuela Koop

Scientists create strange matter that once filled Universe

Published: 01st February, 2019 at 00:00
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Odd geometric shapes can be produced with the quark-gluon plasma created in the PHENIX Detector particle collider.

Physicists at the University of Colorado have created tiny blobs of the bizarre liquid-like matter that filled the Universe milliseconds after the Big Bang.

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The team created the so-called quark-gluon plasma by smashing packets of protons and neutrons into a much heavier gold atom in the PHENIX Detector particle collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. It is theorised that this matter filled the entire Universe shortly after the Big Bang when it was still too hot for particles to come together to make atoms.

The quark-gluon plasma can form a circle, an ellipse, or a triangle © Javier Orjuela Koop
The quark-gluon plasma can form a circle, an ellipse, or a triangle © Javier Orjuela Koop

The physicists discovered that the droplets of quark-gluon plasma behave in a liquid-like manner expanding to form different geometric patterns – circles, ellipses and triangles – depending on the type of particle used. Shooting the gold with a proton creates a circular pattern; shooting the gold with a deuteron, or proton-neutron pair, created an ellipse; while shooting the gold with a helium-3 atom, or two protons and a neutron, created a triangle.

“Imagine that you have two droplets that are expanding into a vacuum. If the two droplets are really close together, then as they’re expanding out, they run into each other and push against each other, and that’s what creates this pattern,” said Prof Jamie Nagle.

Further study of the process could help theorists better understand how the Universe’s original quark-gluon plasma cooled over time, giving birth to the first atoms in existence, they say.

CERN’s trigger system - how the LHC copes with a constant flood of data © Getty Images

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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