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Two physicists from Texas A&M University, Xingbo Zhao and Dr. Ralf Rapp, were awarded the graduate level 2009 Robert S. Hyer Research Award of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society (TSAPS).
The annual award recognizes a physics student and his or her adviser for physics research that demonstrates excellence and relevance to the scientific community. Zhao was presented with the award during an October 23 banquet dinner ceremony as part of the Texas Physics 2009 conference, held October 22-24 at Texas State University in San Marcos. Zhao and Rapp each received a plaque, while Zhao also received a $500 prize.
Rapp, a member of the Texas A&M faculty since 2003, and Zhao, a student research assistant under Rapp's mentorship in the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy and Cyclotron Institute, were cited for their contributions to the theory of the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) -- a dense, hot state of matter that existed in the first microseconds after the Big Bang -- with their studies of charmonium production in heavy-ion collisions involving QGP and the suppressive and regenerative effect of the J/ψ particle.
The duo's prize-winning research was featured as one of the discussions in the annual Joint Fall Meeting of TSAPS as well as the Texas Sections of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Society of Physics Students-Zone 13, held in conjunction with Texas Physics 2009. It was one of several hundred presentations that were given over the course of the weekend by world renowned physicists from Texas and the world in a showcase of international excellence in physics.
"We did deep levels of research involving the origins of our matter, and it answers many questions about our matter," Zhao said. "This is the type of research that attracted me to this field."
Rapp explained that their work involved theoretical studies of collisions of heavy atomic nuclei where the collision energy is converted into thermal energy possibly producing a QGP, essentially creating "Little Bangs" and important clues to the origins of matter in their large-scale experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
"The J/ψ particle consists of two heavy quarks, and the idea is that if QGP is formed, then J/ψ should dissolve in QGP," Rapp said. "Then you would observe less J/ψ, which is the J/ψ suppression signature. We later realized that in QGP, you can create or restore J/ψ, meaning you have a suppressive or regenerative effect. We were doing systematic investigation in terms of how you can understand both mechanisms. We tried to set up a thermal framework to interpret the data."
While the research is limited in its practical applications, Rapp noted it is significant in its revelations of the Universe and the structure of matter.
"I was very surprised to receive this honor," Zhao said. "It's a highly competitive award. Dr. Rapp has been a very good adviser to me."
For more information on Zhao and Rapp's research, visit http://cyclotron.tamu.edu/rapp/.
The 2009 undergraduate level Robert S. Hyer Research Award of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society (TSAPS) went to Jorge Muñoz (student) and Jorge López (research advisor) from the University of Texas at El Paso. This award recognizes an undergraduate student and her/his advisor for physics research that demonstrates excellence and relevance to the scientific community.
The "Jorges" received the award for a study of the novel nuclear phenomenon termed "isoscaling" that relates collisions of stable nuclei to similar collisions of radioactive nuclei. Muñoz, collaborating as a research assistant with López, found that the phenomenon is more general than in the nuclear case; this finding has direct implications to experiments being conducted at cyclotrons around the globe. Muñoz presented their results at the Fall 2008 meeting of the TSAPS in El Paso.
López received the award during the October 23 banquet ceremony at the Fall 2009 TSAPS conference, held October 22-24 at Texas State University in San Marcos. Muñoz, busy with his Ph.D. studies at Caltech, did not attend the ceremony but received a plaque and a $500 prize.