About Particle and Nuclear Physics


Particle physics is the study of the basic elements of matter and the forces and symmetries that govern their interactions. It aims to determine the fundamental laws that control the make-up of matter and the physical universe.  Most particle physicists tend to be either experimentalists or theorists.  While theorists sometimes work alone, or in small teams, the experiments usually involve large international collaborations (sometimes involving 300 or more scientists), and they are performed as laboratories such as CERN in Geneva.

Of the three particle physicists at Mason, one experimentalist, Philip Rubin, is seeking evidence for rare and forbidden processes which might be violations to currently accepted symmetries or conservation laws. Another, Robert Ellsworth, studies the interaction of high energy cosmic rays, as well as neutrino oscillations, and a third, Robert Ehrlich has been seeking evidence for the hypothesis that one of the neutrinos being a tachyon, or faster-than-light particle.

Robert Oerter is a theorist who has explored supergravity, especially as applied to string theory, quantum chaos, and underwater acoustics. Currently, he is interested in nonlinear quantum mechanics and quantum computing. His book about the standard model of elementary particle physics, The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics, is a non-technical introduction to the most successful physical theory of all time, one that unites our understanding of the structure of matter and (almost) all of its interactions.

B. Joseph Lieb is an experimentalist in nuclear and particle physics and also involved in computer simulations of planetary atmospheres. He has participated in experiments at several international particle accelerator facilities. Currently he is involved in an international collaboration using the COSY proton accelerator at the IKP laboratory in Germany. These experiments probe meson interactions with nuclei and the major focus is an attempt to detect the theoretically predicted existence of bound states of eta mesons in nuclei. Several years ago Dr. Lieb got involved in computer modeling of the Martian atmosphere based on the Caltech/JPL photochemical model. Included in the research that is currently in progress are detailed studies to predict the behavior of gases which might be indicative of subsurface life on Mars including CH4, HCN, H2S, NH3 and H2CO. These model studies include globally averaged-calculations, diurnal concentrations of these gases and their behavior at the surface-atmosphere boundary under various assumptions.