Brookhaven Lab sets Guinness heat record

Image from an animation depicting the collision of

Image from an animation depicting the collision of gold ions at Brookhaven Lab. (Credit: Brookhaven National Lab)

Brookhaven National Laboratory, winner of seven Nobel Prizes, has earned a place in another rarefied club, whose feats include the world's longest nose and loudest burp.

Guinness World Records has recognized the federal research facility in Upton for generating the hottest temperature on earth. Using a 2.4-mile collider ring that smashes infinitesimal particles at nearly the speed of light, Brookhaven scientists created an impact so intense it spawned a primordial soup with a temperature of 7.2 trillion degrees. That's 250,000 times hotter than the sun.

"The last time anything was that hot was about one-millionth of a second after the big bang," said Steven Vigdor, head of Brookhaven's nuclear and particle physics program.

To be clear, Vigdor and his colleagues were not smashing gold ions for the sake of a record with Guinness, which dropped "book" from its name in 2000. Their goal was to study matter's basic properties by recreating conditions from the dawn of the universe, when matter was hot enough to melt neutrons and protons. But sometimes science yields unexpected results.

Brookhaven first measured the temperature of the primordial soup produced by its relativistic heavy ion collider in 2010. Researchers had expected to create a gas, but got a nearly frictionless liquid of quarks and gluons. A very hot liquid.

Guinness took notice. The previous high temperature was 3.6 billion degrees, set by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. Guinness contacted Brookhaven to confirm and quietly updated its archives in June 2010. Vigdor and his team, however, didn't learn of their place in the world record annals until recently.

"I never thought about making the Guinness book," he said.

Yet Brookhaven had been there before. A researcher from the lab is credited with creating the first tennis video game in 1958 -- predating Atari's Pong by 14 years.

Alas, the heat record may be fleeting. A 17-mile collider that debuted in 2010 along the Franco-Swiss border can smash even harder than Brookhaven's ring.

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