Theoretical Nuclear & Particle Physics

Theoretical investigations of nuclear and particle phenomena probe the most fundamental laws governing what matter is and how it behaves. The "standard model" of elementary particle physics, is sufficiently complete to permit, in principle, the prediction of the collective properties of QCD matter as well as all kinds of nuclear and atomic interactions in terms of derived "effective" forces, in the same sense that chemical interactions can be derived from the rules of atomic physics. The Duke Nuclear and Particle Theory group develops techniques for achieving this, and is studying applications to the internal structure of nucleons and nuclei.

Our research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through regular research grants. In addition,  we also participate in a Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) grant from the National Science Foundation and a Topical Collaboration Grant by the DOE. Our past research support has includes international collaboration grants from the National Science Foundation, three DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Awards as well as collaborative agreements with the RIKEN/BNL Research Center and Jefferson Laboratory.

We participate in international collaborations with many universities, including the University of Durham (England), Osaka University (Japan), Nagoya University (Japan)  and the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (Calcutta, India), as well as universities in Bern (Switzerland), Budapest (Hungary), Munich (Germany), Frankfurt (Germany) and Regensburg (Germany). We also interact closely with nuclear theory and experimental groups at North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina, with whom we run the bi-weekly Triangle Nuclear Theory Colloquium.

Research Topics

How do quarks interact?

How do the most fundamental particles known bind together to form nucleons? Matter is composed of atoms and molecules, atoms are made of electrons and nuclei, nuclei are built from nucleons, and the constituents of nucleons are quarks. The theory of the force responsible for the binding of quarks into nucleons is called Quantum Chromodynamics, or QCD. Though the binding forces at the first three levels of composition are quantitatively understood, those at the quark level are still very poorly understood. The Duke group investigates QCD from three broad points of view: the derivation of effective quark interactions from first principles; the behavior of elementary particles under extreme conditions; and reactions of particles and nuclei at high densities and temperatures.

Lattice Gauge and Effective Field Theories (l/eft)

The Duke group studies particle interactions at both the hadron level (protons, neutrons, mesons and their excited states) and at the quark level. They are particularly interested in the theoretical desciption of phenomena that probe specific QCD-related aspects of these interactions, either through symmetry properties that are characteristic for QCD or through signatures of the quark substructure of hadronic matter. Current research projects include the use of effective field theories for processes involving hadrons containing heavy (c or b) quarks and investigations probing hadron structure.

Lattice gauge calculations provide the only rigorous method to solve QCD and e.g. compute its equation of state. In principle both, non-perturbative confined hadronic matter as well as the non-perturbative and perturbative deconfined phases of QCD can be investigated.

Hot and Dense QCD: Quark-Gluon-Plasma and relativistic heavy ion collisions

The Quark-Gluon-Plasma (QGP) is a primordial form of matter which made up the entire Universe a couple of microseconds after its creation in the Big Bang. Today experiments are underway to recreate this form of matter by colliding two heavy atomic nuclei at very high energies. Investigating the properties of the QGP will provide us with an improved understanding of QCD and the evolution of the early Universe.

Group Activities and Further Information

Further Information


Faculty & Other Group Members

Theoretical Nuclear and Particle Physics Faculty

  • Steffen A. Bass

    Professor of Physics
    Research Interest:
    Physics of the Quark-Gluon-Plasma (QGP) and ultra-relativistic heavy-ion collisions used to create such a QGP under controlled laboratory conditions
  • Shailesh Chandrasekharan

    Associate Professor of Physics
    Research Interest:
    Theoretical studies of quantum phase transitions using quantum Monte Carlo methods; lattice QCD; Quantum Critical Behavior in Fermion Systems, Using the generalized fermion bag algorithm, Applications to Graphene and Unitary Fermi Gas
  • Thomas C. Mehen

    Professor of Physics
    Research Interest:
    Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) and the application of effective field theory to hadronic physics
  • Berndt Mueller

    James B. Duke Professor of Physics
    Research Interest:
    Nuclear matter at extreme energy density; Quantum chromodynamics
  • Roxanne P. Springer

    Professor of Physics
    Research Interest:
    Weak interactions (the force responsible for nuclear beta decay) and quantum chromodynamics (QCD, the force that binds quarks into hadrons)
Postdoctoral Fellows:
  • Jared Vanasse
  • Marlene Nahrgang
Graduate Students:
  • Venkitesh P. Ayyar
  • Jonah Bernhard
  • Shanshan Cao
  • Christopher Coleman-Smith
  • Scott E. Moreland
  • Di-Lun Yang
  • Emilie Huffman
  • Reggie Bain
  • Arman Margaryan
  • Yiannis Makris
Former Group Members