The Big Bang Theory

September 20, 2015

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BUFFALO, NY – Michael H. Wood, PhD, is the recipient of a three-year, $105,000 grant from the Nuclear Physics Division of the National Science Foundation. An associate professor and chair of the Canisius College Department of Physics, Wood will use the grant to investigate how subatomic particles are created. Cansius physics majors will participate in Wood’s research and assist with data analysis. He likens the process to the formation of the cosmos.

“About one micro-second after ‘The Big Bang,’ the universe cooled enough for subatomic particles to combine into particles like protons and neutrons,” says Wood, who analyzes the very building blocks that make up the universe. “Before this time, the universe was just a hot plasma of subatomic particles, electrons and light, similar to a neon ‘open’ sign in a store.” 

An experimental nuclear physicist, Wood studies how the nucleus of an atom fits together, both at Canisius and at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, VA, where he is a collaborator.  Operated by the Department of Energy, the nuclear physics center houses an electron beam accelerator, which researchers such as Wood use to shoot electrons directly into an atom’s nucleus to cause it to break apart.

Once he replicates ‘The Big Bang’ process using the electron beam accelerator, Wood records observations to answer such questions as how do the subatomic particles find each other and cling together? How long does it take? How close do the particles need to be in order for the process to begin?        

“I take the scattered pieces and try to fit them back together to figure out the dynamics of the nucleus and the very nature of matter itself,” adds Wood, who will collaborate with researchers from Old Dominion University, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Universidad Téchnica Federico Santa Maria in Chile.

Canisius is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation and the premier private university in Western New York.

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