The discovery or synthesis of new elements has always fascinated scientists, and currently the search is on to find new "superheavy" elements (elements with atomic number around 120). These elements are synthesised in the laboratory by fusing two heavy nuclei. Fusion leads to superheavy element formation only when the combined many-body quantum system survives the competing processes of fission and quasi-fission, which cause the system to break apart. This depends sensitively on many variables, such as the shape of the interacting nuclei, their mass difference, shell structure, and the number of excess neutrons. The group is currently working on the challenging tasks of isolating the factors that influence the formation of heavy elements, and of theoretically predicting their yields.
Using the 15 Million Volt electrostatic accelerator, and the highly efficient CUBE fission detectors, this research project will involve measurements and analysis of the mass and angle distribution of the outgoing quasi-fission fragments, resulting from collisions with exotic target nuclei including plutonium, curium and californium. From these data, reaction timescales of less than 10-20 seconds can be measured. This will allow us to obtain a picture of the dynamics of the fusion reaction. The project can also involve working on theoretical developments of a model aimed at simulating the process of fusion and quasi-fission, working with theoretians in our group. The relative weights of the experimental and theoretical components can be tailored to suit the interests of the student.