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Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of the inner part of the atom, i.e. the nucleus. Early nuclear physics experiments include the study of natural radioactivity, at the end of 19th century, and the demonstration of the existence of the nucleus by the turn of the century. New elemental constituent was added in the following years with the discoveries of the proton and neutron, that also gave access to the estimation of nucleus binding energy. In ’30 some theoretical works proposed the existence of the strong nuclear force, an attractive force holding together the nucleons and acting by means of virtual particles called mesons, and of the weak nuclear forces, responsible for some nuclear decay; this forces are two of the four fundamental interaction in nature. Many different models were developed to explain the behaviour of the nucleons inside the nuclei, as a collective ensemble or as individual entities, and to justify the different properties of nuclei, such as mass, excitation energies, natural or induced decay modes. Nuclear models, fundamental interactions and nucleons properties were studied by looking at the different products coming out by induced nuclear reactions, in which nuclei and particles collides at every higher energy; particles accelerators became thus fundamental facilities for this research field, together with apparatus able to detect the reaction products.

Nowadays different interconnected research lines constitute the core of nuclear physics; properties of single nucleons and other strong interacting particles, equation of state of nuclear and hadronic matter and its behaviour under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature, liquid-gas and Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP) phase transitions, different reaction mechanisms, production of very exotic nuclei, study of nuclear structure, nuclear reactions of astrophysical interest are some examples of subjects studied from experimental and theoretical point of view.

At the same time nuclear physics strictly interacts with other research domains, as particle physics, the branch of physics that evolved of nuclear physics and studies the elementary constituents of matter and the interactions between them, astrophysics and astroparticle physics.

A direct application of nuclear physics can be found in nuclear energy, coming from fission or fusion, but the research field is also the basis for a far wider range of applications, including in the medical sector (e.g. nuclear medicine, magnetic resonance imaging, hadronic cancer treatment), in materials engineering (e.g. ion implantation, ion beam analysis) and in cultural heritage (e.g. nuclear method dating). Moreover, thanks to the continuous effort of improving the instruments used for the theoretical and experimental research, nuclear physics strongly contributes to the development of various other fields as high technology (e.g. cryogenic and high vacuum techniques), electronics, networking and computer science (e.g. the WEB and the GRID computing).

Nuclear physics is since always one of the main research area of the Department of Physics. In 1955 the Centro Siciliano per la Fisica Nucleare e la Struttura delle Materia" (CSFNSM) bought with the University of Catania a 2 MeV Van de Graaf Accelerator that started the activity of experimental research in the Catania site. About 20 years later the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), the organization leading nuclear physics research in Italy since 1950 and already present with a Division inside the Department of Physics, decided to found in Catania one of its national laboratory, the Laboratorio Nazionale del Sud (LNS), devoted to the study of nuclear physics by means of two particles accelerators.

Today peoples of Department of Physics, in collaboration with the INFN, lead research in both theoretical and experimental nuclear physics in the Catania site as well as in many laboratories and research centres spread all over the Europe and the rest of the World, giving always a fundamental contributions in their research lines.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:43


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