60-Second Science

Better Beams Give More Big Bang For Buck

Particle beams traveling at almost the speed of light get lined up after information going even faster tells devices to straighten things out. The result may provide information about the Big Bang. Cynthia Graber reports.

Physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have been able to send information ahead of particle beams racing at nearly the speed of light. And the message to the beams is: Get in line. This technique has been developed at other labs but never used before with particle beams traveling in discrete bunches. These bunches are important in recreating that singular moment, the Big Bang.

In these experiments, there are two different sets of ions, electrically charged particles, zooming towards each other around a 2.4 mile track. They collide into one another to recreate conditions that provide info about the Big Bang. But the ions spread out as they move. And this means that there are fewer collisions.

In a technique called stochastic cooling, scientists first measure fluctuations in the beams of ions. Then they send signals even faster than these particles to devices up ahead that can kick these particles back into shape. Researchers say this technique allows them to create these collisions much more frequently and cheaply than other methods. And so they can get more and better data about what our universe might have been like just after it came into existence.

—Cynthia Graber 

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