Research Spotlight: Exploring the nature of the universe with Dr. Thomas Blum 

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The Edward V. Gant Science Complex is home to many students and departments in STEM. Dr.  Thomas Blum , Professor of Physics and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Affairs, has been researching Quantum Chromodynamics, a theory which describes the interactions between elementary particles.  Photo by Brandon Barzola / The Daily Campus

The Edward V. Gant Science Complex is home to many students and departments in STEM. Dr. Thomas Blum, Professor of Physics and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Affairs, has been researching Quantum Chromodynamics, a theory which describes the interactions between elementary particles. Photo by Brandon Barzola / The Daily Campus

Since 2004, Dr. Thomas Blum, Professor of Physics and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Affairs, has been researching the fundamental forces of the universe at the University of Connecticut.  

His research is about Quantum Chromodynamics, a theory which describes the interactions between elementary particles. The development of this theory could help further understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics. 

Despite its unassuming name, the Standard Model is what physicists use to describe the fundamental building blocks of everything in the universe. In class, you may have studied protons, neutrons and electrons, which are the pieces that make up an atom. Those are called subatomic particles. According to PBS News, elementary particles are smaller bits of matter that make up subatomic particles. Everything around you, from the chair you’re sitting on to the paper you’re reading this in, can be broken down into elementary particles. 

As described by European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the Standard Model is basically a list of the 17 different elementary particles and their characteristics. The most famous of these particles is the Higgs Boson, which made international headlines in 2012 when evidence of its existence was found in experiments conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. This discovery won the 2013 Nobel Prize for physics. The Standard Model explains almost every big problem in physics that sounds like the stuff of science fiction, from dark matter to what really happened in the Big Bang. But there’s just one problem: It hasn’t been fully proven yet.  

Blum’s research focuses on the interactions between quarks, a category of elementary particles that’s comprised of six of the 17 particles in the Standard Model, and gluons, another particle listed in the Standard Model. The theory of Quantum Chromodynamics describes the strong force, which is the force that holds quarks and gluons together.  

“Quarks and gluons make up (almost) all of the visible matter in our universe.” Blum said. “We study these interactions both for their own intrinsic interest (e.g, how do the properties of protons arise from the quark and gluon interactions), and also how they affect other Standard Model processes and properties.” 

Research for Blum mostly involves running complicated numerical simulations of Quantum Chromodynamics on some of the world’s largest supercomputers. These calculations could help to either prove or disprove what physicists currently believe about the fundamental nature of the universe.  

Blum is looking specifically at the muon anomaly, which is a discrepancy between theory and experimental value that could potentially challenge the Standard Model. 

“One important topic is the theory value of the muon’s magnetic moment where the theory doesn’t quite agree with experiment. It could signal new physical laws, particles, or both, or the difference could go away with better calculations and measurements,” Blum said.  

Blum said that his research about the muon anomaly would most likely wrap up within the next two years. This part of his research is what intrigues him most. 

“The possibility of finding new laws of nature and/or new particles,” Blum responded when asked what makes him excited about his field. “And understanding the structure of our universe at the most fundamental level possible.” 


Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at grace.mcfadden@uconn.edu.

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