Probing Trillion-degree Matter
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
For up to several microseconds after the Big Bang, the universe was so hot that even protons and neutrons melted into a trillion-degree liquid of quarks and gluons. Now we reproduce this type of matter, called a Quark-Gluon Plasma, by colliding relativistic nuclei at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland. This hot, dense matter only exists for about 10^-23 seconds after a collision occurs and is therefore impossible to probe via the same means used to study other plasmas. Fortunately, in some rare collisions a probe is created within the Quark-Gluon Plasma as a high-energy quark, gluon, photon or Z that will pass through this hot matter, allowing us to measure the probe's properties and infer the nature of this novel state of matter. I will discuss the computational challenges in collecting and recording this data from the collider, where collisions occur at a far higher rate than can be recorded to disk, as well as the challenges in dealing with the petabyte of data recorded after each run. Lastly, I will describe what is learned from these probes about this fundamental state of matter.