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Research Communications

Sticky Science 

Graduate Student Spotlight: Shloka Chandavar

March 17, 2011

To study something that might not exist, physics doctoral student Shloka Chandavar uses particles that do exist—such as protons and mesons. By tracking their interactions, she reconstructs theoretical collections of particles called glueballs.

“Glueballs are a totally different type of particle,” she says. “They’ve never been seen before.”

Some physicists theorize that glueballs occur when two or more elementary particles called gluons orbit each other. Gluons exist inside protons and neutrons. They carry a force called the strong force (one of four forces in nature, such as electromagnetism and gravity), which holds the nucleus together. Many physicists believe that combinations of gluons cannot exist outside of the particles they hold together.

Shloka Chandavar
Shloka Chandavar (Photo credit: Greg Adams, Jefferson Lab, Department of Energy)

Chandavar is not one of those physicists. With Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ken Hicks, she set out in 2009 to prove that combinations of gluons can exist outside of a particle—a theory stemming from the 1970s.

If they are correct and glueballs are found, the student explains, scientists will learn more about the fundamental theory of the strong force called Quantum Chromodynamics.

Glueballs pose a problem, however, because they decay so rapidly—within a few 100-millionths of a second. To study them more in depth, Chandavar traveled to the Jefferson Laboratory in Virginia, where she uses data from an accelerator to expose protons to high-energy gamma rays. Theoretically, this produces glueballs coupled with particles called mesons, which decay into lighter particles.

A detector picks up on those particles, and Chandavar works backward using computational equations to reconstruct the glueballs coupled with mesons. She also measures the decay products’ momentum to estimate mass.

That work won first prize in the physics and astronomy category at the Ohio University Student Research and Creativity Expo last spring. But there remains plenty to learn. “If glueballs do exist and we find them,” she says, “it would be very different physics.”

By Katie Brandt

This story will appear in a larger feature about Ohio University graduate student research in the spring/summer 2011 issue of Perspectives magazine.