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When the ions are moving close to the speed of light, lengths contract in the direction of motion. This contraction is an effect described by Einstein's special theory of relativity that gave us the famous equation E=mc^2. The ions are warped from spheres into flat disks. To create little bangs that will produce a dense soup of quark and gluons like in the early universe, we want to pack as much matter into these collisions as possible. That's why the heaviest elements are used, such as Gold, Lead, or even Uranium.

At Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island New York, one of these massive machines has been operating since 2000. Its name is the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider or RHIC (pronounced Rick). The name says a lot about the machine: Relativistic because the Ions are accelerated to nearly the speed of light where the special theory of relativity applies. Heavy because heavy elements are used. Ion because the electrons have been stripped off of the atoms leaving a positively charged nucleus. Collider because beams of these ions are circulated in opposite directions and collided at several intersection points.


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