A perfect liquid at the LHC

  • Posted on: 18 July 2014
In heavy-ion collisions at the LHC, the ALICE collaboration found that the hot matter created in the collision behaves like a fluid with little friction, with almost zero viscosity.

Off-centre nuclear collisions, with a finite impact parameter, create a strongly asymmetric "almond-shaped" fireball. However, experiments cannot measure the spatial dimensions of the interaction (except in special cases, like the production of pions). Instead, they measure the momentum distributions of the emitted particles. A correlation between the measured azimuthal momentum distribution of particles emitted from the decaying fireball and the initial spatial asymmetry can arise only from multiple interactions between the constituents of the created matter; in other words it tells us about how the matter flows, which is related to its equation of state and its thermodynamic transport properties.

The measured azimuthal distribution of particles in momentum space can be decomposed into Fourier coefficients. The second Fourier coefficient (v2), called elliptic flow, is particularly sensitive to the internal friction or viscosity of the fluid, or more precisely, η/s, the ratio of the shear viscosity (η) to entropy (s) of the system. For a good fluid such as water, the η/s ratio is small. A "thick" liquid, such as honey, has large values of η/s.

With these measurements, ALICE has just begun to explore the temperature dependence of η/s and we anticipate many more in-depth flow-related measurements at the LHC that will constrain the hydrodynamic features of the QGP even further.