Futurum: The science of the very small has enormous potential

 Dr Wouter Deconinck, is part of the team working on the Electron-Ion Collider. Once built, the machine will be able to look inside the atomic nucleus, its protons and neutrons, and help to power the technologies of the future.

As Futurum reports:

EIC will, for the first time, enable scientists to build a collider where both the electron and the proton can be polarised; the intensity of the collisions will be so high that specific studies of the proton structure will be possible. It will also be the first collider where electrons can collide with polarised ions such as deuterium or helium. “What we hope to achieve with the EIC is ‘tomography’ of the proton. Think of a medical scan (MRI or CT), but now apply that to a proton: we will be able to look at slices of the proton, both along the beam direction and in the direction transverse to beam direction,” says Wouter. “We will even be able to look at the impact of the polarisation on these pictures. Finally, because we can accelerate ions, which also contain neutrons, we are not limited to studying the proton, but we can study the neutron just as well.”


Wouter is most excited about the prospect of measuring the electroweak mixing angle, which is a fundamental property of the weak force that can describe, for example, the beta decay of radioactive nuclei. It is the least familiar of the four fundamental forces, so the potential for developing new knowledge is enormous. Particle accelerators are used in a wide range of fields, such as cancer therapies or implanting ions into the chips in smartphones. “While nuclear and particle physics research aims to answer big questions about the universe, it is also the perfect training ground for future inventors of new technologies, or cures to diseases,” explains Wouter. “I hope that among the hundreds of students who will work on EIC there will be many who go on to build the innovations of the future, whether they are potential cures to cancer, new medical imaging techniques, or even the next generation of the internet.”