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Nov 16, 2022
Observe the creation of the hottest matter in the laboratory

Heavy ion collisions at ultra-relativistic speeds in large particle gas pedals create a plasma of quarks and gluons, a surprising state of matter obeying the laws of almost perfect fluids for 10 fm/c = 3 10-23s (i.e. with a small viscosity). Although this state of matter is the subject of intense experimental studies, the study of the emergence of this fluid in heavy ion collisions from gluons during the first fm/c escapes direct exploration today. Within the Gluodynamics collaboration of the Labex Physics of the 2 Infinites and Origins (P2IO), researchers from Irfu, IPhT and the University of Bielefeld (Germany) have identified observables sensitive to the first instants (≈ fm/c) of these heavy ion collisions. Theoretical results indicate that the creation of dileptons carries information about the emergence of hydrodynamics and the creation of quarks in the Quark gluon plasma (QGP). The collaboration resulted in a first publication in Physics Letters B [1] and a second one has been submitted to Nuclear Physics A [2].


1. Ultra-relativistic heavy ion collisions and quark-gluon plasma

In ultra-relativistic heavy ion collisions, a high-temperature state of matter is created: the quark and gluon plasma (QGP). This state of matter forms above a temperature of 1.7 1010 degrees Celsius and was therefore predominant in the universe during the first microseconds after the Big-Bang. Experimental measurements have led to the conclusion that the PQG behaves like a near-perfect fluid 1. The PQG is today studied in two large particle gas pedals: the "relativistic heavy-ion collider" (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the USA (gold-gold collisions at an energy √ sNN = 200 GeV) and the "large hadron collider" (LHC) at CERN in Geneva (lead-lead collisions at an energy √ sNN = 5000 GeV). However, this picture of the quark and gluon plasma seen as a near perfect fluid living for 10 fm/c is not exclusively based on the results of the current experiments, uses a variety of theoretical models, from different scenarios of the formation of the PQG. However, the "initial state" of heavy ion collisions is precisely characterized thanks to the study of the structure of the proton, which allowed to assert that the energy deposition in the collision zone is largely due to the contribution of gluons (these are the messengers of the strong interaction, one of the four fundamental interactions known in modern physics). An illustration of the modeling of this energy deposition in the initial state is shown in figure 1. However, the way in which these gluons evolve to form a fluid described by hydrodynamics, in an extremely small time span of the order of 1 fm/c = 3.10-24 seconds, is not understood at all.

1This fluid has the smallest entropy density normalized viscosity that has ever been experimentally observed. This property implies that the expansion in the hydrodynamic stage is very little affected by friction.

Observe the creation of the hottest matter in the laboratory

Figure 1: Energy deposition in the transverse plane of a heavy ion collision by gluons, as calculated using a consensus "initial state" model [3]. The units of the two transverse axes are given in fermimeters (1 fm = 10^-15m), the vertical axis indicates the energy density in arbitrary units.

Observe the creation of the hottest matter in the laboratory

Figure 2: Leading order Feynman diagram for dilepton production.

2. An experimental probe of choice: the radiation of matter

How could we experimentally access the transition between this initial state and the hydrody-namic description? To face this challenge, we need to find an observable, i.e. a measurable physical quantity, which allows to characterize this transition stage without being altered after its creation. The electromagnetic radiation seems to be the ideal probe in this respect. Even if its production is low, the probability that this radiation re-interacts with the other products of the collision is low and its transport is almost unperturbed by the nuclear medium through which it passes. This probe has already been used to understand other stages of the collision, but had not yet been used to study the transition phase between the initial state and the hydrodynamic regime. A team of experimental physics researchers from the DPhN of Irfu has thus initiated a collaboration with theorists of heavy ion collision hydrodynamics from the IPhT of CEA Saclay and theorists of the early PQG physics at the University of Bielefeld in the framework of the Gluodynamics collaboration. Among the competing electromagnetic observables, the team identified the study of dilepton production (electron-positron pairs or muon-antimuon2 pairs) as a promising probe of the first moments of the collision. Indeed, the production of dileptons is strongly influenced by two key factors that characterize the transition between the initial state and the hydrodynamic regime. First, the dilepton cannot be directly produced by the gluons emerging from the initial state. It requires electric charges, quarks, which are created from the gluons through the strong interaction. Its production is illustrated in Figure 2. Thus, the production of dileptons directly measures the emergence of quarks in the soup of quarks and gluons. The second important factor is the rate at which the initial out-of-equilibrium system "thermalizes" kinematically towards a hydrodynamic description. This equilibration is quantified by the viscosity of the system η normalized by the noted entropy density. Consequently, a measurement of the dilepton production rate directly informs us about these two features of the transition from the initial state to the hydrodynamic stage: the creation of charges and the speed of the transition itself  3.

2. Electrons and muons are elementary particles of the standard model of particle physics, positrons and antimuons are the corresponding antiparticles. They are all charged leptons, i.e. particles that participate in the electromagnetic interaction and the weak interaction.

3. This sensitivity to the speed of the transition is possible because we could estimate the final entropy of the collision with the measurement of most of the particles after the collision.


The results for the dilepton production rate shown in Figure 3 show the sensitivity as a function of the viscosity value and the sensitivity to charge creation. The production of dileptons is very different for the viscosity to entropy density ratios η/s=0.16 (red line) and η/s=0.32 (blue line), visible in logarithmic scale. Moreover, the dashed curves show the production under the assumption that quarks are present from the beginning of the collision (at impact). Thus, the difference between the dotted and solid curves shows the effect of the absence of quarks at the first moments of the collision. These simulation results are important because, compared to the experimental results, they should eventually allow to characterize the nature of the creation phase of the PQG. The collaboration has resulted in a first publication in Physics letters B [1] and a second one has been submitted to Nuclear Physics A [2].

Observe the creation of the hottest matter in the laboratory

Figure 3: Spectrum of dileptons produced in a heavy ion collision by matter and irreducible background (Drell-Yan) [1]. The ordinate is the differential production rate in the dilepton mass and the velocity, a kinematic variable. The abscissa is the invariant mass of the produced dilepton given in GeV.

3. From prediction to measurement

The strong sensitivity of this observable to the transition from the initial state to the almost perfect fluid at the first instants of heavy ion collisions is a strong motivation to study it in the future. At present, there are no measurements due to instrumental limitations. DPhN researchers have therefore initiated an experimental program to study the feasibility of measuring dimuon production at the High-Luminosity-LHC, the upcoming upgrade of the LHC at CERN in 2030. This experimental effort is focused on the LHCb experiment because it has a very good muon reconstruction performance for the pulses in question, and allows to efficiently get rid of the reducible background 4.

4. Heavy flavor hadron decays (charm and ,beauty) that produce a dilepton can be partially rejected by the LHCb vertex detector.

Contact: Michael WINN





  • [1] M. Coquet, X. Du, J. Y. Ollitrault, S. Schlichting and M. Winn, Phys. Lett. B 821 (2021), 136626 doi :10.1016/j.physletb.2021.136626 [arXiv :2104.07622 [nuclth]].
  • [2] M. Coquet, X. Du, J. Y. Ollitrault, S. Schlichting and M. Winn, [arXiv :2112.13876 [nucl-th]].
  • [3] B. Schenke, P. Tribedy and R. Venugopalan, Phys. Rev. Lett. 108 (2012), 252301 doi :10.1103/PhysRevLett.108.252301 [arXiv :1202.6646 [nucl-th]].
#196 - Last update : 11/16 2022


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