UPTON, NY — James (Daniel) Brandenburg, a Goldhaber Distinguished Fellow uncovering clues to the composition of visible matter at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been named a finalist in the 2022 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists.
The annual awards, announced by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), honor postdoctoral researchers from academic research institutions throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Brandenburg will be honored at the 2022 NYAS Gala on November 14 and will receive a $10,000 award.
Among his achievements in experimental high-energy nuclear physics, Brandenburg is recognized for his role in research that provided evidence for processes predicted by scientists more than 80 years ago.
“Physicists have spent almost a century trying to convert light into matter – to achieve the concept immortalized in Einstein’s famous E=mc equation2‘ said Brandenburg. “I found an unlikely approach using near misses in a nuclear smasher to finally make it possible.”
Brandenburg is lead author of the recent discovery, which showed that pairs of electrons and positrons – particles of matter and antimatter – can be created directly by colliding particles of light, or “true photons”. This event was predicted by physicists Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler in 1934, but the means to demonstrate it did not exist then.
Fast forward to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) – a DOE Office of Science user facility for nuclear physics research at Brookhaven Lab. At the RHIC, physicists are colliding particles at nearly the speed of light to unveil the properties of the building blocks of visible matter. By analyzing data collected by RHIC’s STAR detector, Brandenburg observed how matter is formed when clouds of photons surrounding gold ions collide as the particles pass closely by one another while racing in opposite directions.
Brandenburg also played a role in other important observations, including showing the effects of birefringence in vacuum. Scientists theorized decades ago that a vacuum of empty space could be polarized by a strong magnetic field. Such a polarized field would deflect—or bend—the paths of the photons in a way that depends on the photon’s own polarization. At the RHIC, scientists have measured how the polarization of light affects whether the light is “absorbed” by the magnetic field.
Brandenburg joined Brookhaven Lab in 2018 as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Frontiers in Nuclear Science. He has since developed software for the suite of detectors in the ongoing STAR Forward Upgrade project.
In 2020, Brandenburg was selected as a Goldhaber Distinguished Fellow – a prestigious fellowship award for scholars with exceptional talent and credentials who have a strong desire for independent research at the frontiers of their field. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Florida and both his master’s and Ph.D. in Heavy Ion Physics from Rice University. He received the Elsevier Young Science Award for Best Experimental Talk at QuarkMatter 2019.
Brookhaven’s nuclear physics research at RHIC is supported by the DOE Office of Science (NP).
Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the largest single funder of basic science research in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Visit science.energy.gov for more information.
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