Strong Interaction: Maynooth University plays host to 13th Quark Confinement and Hadron Spectrum Conference

Quark Confinement and the Hadron Spectrum
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 - 09:45

Maynooth University is proud to host the XIIIth Quark Confinement and the Hadron Spectrum Conference, which is taking place from 1 - 6 August, 2018.  The conference will be attended by more than 300 physicists from some of the most prestigious universities and laboratories around the world including Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Tokyo, Shanghai, Adelaide, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Russia’s Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Cambridge, and the prestigious CERN research facility in Switzerland.

The main topic of the conference will be the strong interaction, which holds together the protons and neutrons in the atomic nuclei.

According to current understanding, protons and neutrons are made up of more fundamental particles called quarks and gluons, and all the features of the strong interaction are described by a theory called Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).  However, despite the tremendous success of this theory, many fundamental questions remain unanswered.
First and foremost among these is the fact that nobody has ever seen an isolated quark.  Most scientists in the field believe that the strong force makes it impossible for quarks to appear on their own, a phenomenon called “quark confinement”, but nobody has provided a universally accepted explanation for this.  This will be an active topic for discussion at the conference.

A related mystery is how we get our mass.  The protons and neutrons are almost 100 times more massive than the quarks they are made up of, which means that most of the mass of everything around us is created by the strong interaction.  How this happens is not yet fully understood, although much progress has been made in calculating the masses (also called the spectrum) of the proton, neutron and other particles made up of quarks, collectively known as hadrons.

Researchers at Maynooth University are studying what happens at extreme temperatures (a million times the temperature of the Sun) and densities (billions of tonnes per teaspoon), where quarks may no longer be confined.  These temperatures are created in experiments at CERN and elsewhere and existed in the first moments of the Big Bang, while the extreme densities can be found in the cores of neutron stars.  Other aspects of the strong interaction are studied by researchers at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, who are also among the organisers of this conference.

One place where the strong interaction plays a big role is in extremely dense stars called neutron stars, which were discovered by the Irish astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1967.  The recent discovery of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars heralds a revolution in our understanding of these objects, and a number of talks at the conference will be devoted to this topic.

The conference will also hear how research in the strong interaction has a substantial impact on other areas such as the physics of novel materials, and there will be a separate section of the conference devoted to advanced data analysis methods including machine learning. Particle physics has been at the forefront of developing such methods, with the data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN being perhaps the ultimate Big Data.

Head of Maynooth University’s Department of Theoretical Physics, Dr Jon-Ivar Skullerud commented: “It is wonderful to welcome so many of our colleagues from around the world to Maynooth University for the Quark Confinement and Hadron Spectrum Conference.  Recent breakthroughs in the study of particle physics is changing our understanding of what happens at a quantum level, and I look forward to lively discussion and debate on this throughout the conference.”

Associated with the conference, is a public lecture by Manjit Dosanjh, Senior Advisor for Medical Applications at CERN, on the topic of "Ions for Cancer Therapy". Her talk will explore the many advances in healthcare that stem from particle physics: PET scanners use antimatter; diagnostic imaging uses specialised detectors; while radiotherapy for cancer treatment and isotope generation for diagnosis require particle accelerators.

One such emerging technology for treating cancer is hadron therapy in which protons and atomic nuclei are fired into the body to remove tumours. Unlike X-rays used in conventional treatment, hadron therapy has little effect on the healthy tissue surrounding the tumour. It is the preferred method for treating certain cancers in children.
For those interested in the public lecture. It will be held in Tercentenary Hall, Biosciences Building of Trinity College Dublin at 7.30pm Wednesday, 1st August. Attendance at the lecture is free, but tickets must be booked in advance here.