Accessing the precursor stage of QGP formation

2 May 2022

A report from the ALICE experiment.

ALICE figure 1

The primary goal of the ultrarelativistic heavy-ion collision programme at the LHC is to study the properties of the quark–gluon plasma (QGP), a state of strongly interacting matter in which quarks and gluons are deconfined over large distances compared to the typical size of a hadron. The rapid expansion of the QGP under large pressure gradients is imprinted in the momentum distributions of final-state particles. The azimuthal-anisotropy flow coefficients vn and the mean transverse momentum pT of particles, which are described by hydrodynamic models, have been extensively measured by experiments at the LHC and  at the RHIC collider. These observables are also used as experimental inputs to global Bayesian analyses that provide information on both the initial stages of the heavy-ion collision, before QGP formation, and on key transport coefficients of the QGP itself, such as the shear and bulk viscosities. However, due to the limited constraints on the initial conditions, uncertainties remain in the QGP’s transport coefficients.

The ALICE collaboration recently reported correlations between vn and pT in terms of the modified Pearson coefficient ρ. The measurements were performed in lead–lead (PbPb) and xenon–xenon (XeXe) collisions at centre-of-mass energies per nucleon–nucleon collision of 5.02 and 5.44 TeV, respectively. As the correlations between vn and pT are predicted to be mainly driven by the shape and size of the initial profile of the energy distribution in the transverse plane, these studies provide a new approach to characterise the initial state. 

The measurements show a positive correlation between vn and pT in both PbPb and XeXe collisions (figure 1). These measurements are compared to hydrodynamic calculations using the initial-state models IP-Glasma (based on the colour-glass-condensate effective theory with gluon saturation) and Trento, a parameterised model with nucleons as the relevant degrees of freedom. The centrality dependence of ρ is better described by IP-Glasma than by Trento. In particular, the positive measured values of ρ suggest an effective nucleon width of the order of 0.3–0.5 fm, which is significantly smaller than what has been extracted in all Bayesian analy­ses using Trento initial conditions. The Pearson correlation measurements can now be included in Bayesian analyses to better constrain the initial state in nuclear collisions, thus impacting  the resulting QGP parameters. As a bonus, the measurements in XeXe collisions are sensitive to the quadrupole deformation parameter β2 of the 129Xe nucleus, potentially opening a new window for studying nuclear structure with ultrarelativistic heavy-ion collisions.

Further reading

ALICE Collab. 2021 arXiv:2111.06106.

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