I don’t think many Canberrans know that the tall white tower they may see as they drive past ANU on Parkes way is a 16-million-volt particle accelerator. It’s in this lab I spend my time trying to understand the intrinsic structure of the nucleus, i.e. the configuration of protons and neutrons at centre of an atom. Some physics by analogy, imagine you’re in a deep pool of water at the bottom of a cave, it’s pitch black. Suddenly, more water enters the cave from the ceiling, as the water falls it begins to glow. It illuminates streams, shallow pools, and in some places letting off streaks of lightning. Over time a pattern emerges revealing the details of the cavernous structure.
Here the water represents many nuclei of the same species, i.e. a given number of protons and neutrons. The emergent patterns of the many are unique to that species, they are a display of the state of the individual nucleus changing as it trickles down to the ground state. What’s the point? Developing cutting edge detection techniques, nuclear batteries/lasers, quantum computers, and all that jazz. For myself, I answer this question with a simple fact: with each breath I take, 10,000-billion-billion nuclei enter my lungs; with this in mind, it’s at the very least inherently interesting to research their structure, if not inspiring.