Nuclear physics with open quantum systems

For a century, atomic nuclei have been treated as isolated quantum systems – whether to study their structure and processes within them or to model nuclear reactions between them. However, even systems as quantum mechanical and isolated as atomic nuclei cannot always be separated from their surroundings.

The theory of open quantum systems

For example, nucleosynthesis (the study of the origin of chemical elements in the universe) takes place in the dense plasma environments inside stars and is one of the most fascinating subjects in astrophysics. Accelerator experiments on earth cannot probe important effects on element creation caused by this plasma. Dr Diaz-Torres is currently aiming to develop an exciting new model based on the theory of open quantum systems, which will allow him to characterise quantum tunnelling in nuclear fusion reactions in dense plasma for the first time.

The quantum many-body problem

Another current area of research in nuclear physics is the quantum many-body problem in nuclear structure and reactions.  Dr Stevenson studies how simple nucleons combine to give complex and rich behaviour in processes such as fission; how nuclei lose their constituents to their surrounding environment through decay processes; and how the nucleus ‘chooses’ from among the superposition of possible final states in a decay process.

People involved

Jim Al-Khalili profile image

Professor Jim Al-Khalili

Distinguished Chair, Professor of Physics, Professor of Public Engagement in Science, Centre Director

Alexis Diaz-Torres profile image

Dr Alexis Diaz Torres

Reader in Theoretical Nuclear Physics

Paul Stevenson profile image

Professor Paul Stevenson

Professor of Physics, AWE William Penney Fellow