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ODU FACULTY'S PHYSICS PAPER IMPRESSES

A physics article, perhaps one titled "Revealing the effect of angular correlation in the ground-state He wavefunction: a coincidence study of the transfer ionization process," seldom generates a groundswell of interest.

But when the Bristol, England-based online "Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics" published the above referenced paper this spring, the response of the physics world was extraordinary.

The paper, written by Alexander Godunov, ODU research assistant professor, Colm T. Whelan, ODU eminent scholar and chair of the physics department and Professor H. R. J. Walters of The Queen's University, Belfast, was downloaded 250 times in 21 days.

To put that into perspective, Isabelle Auffret-Babek, publisher of the online journal, said that among all of the articles published recently by her parent company, the Institute of Physics Publishing, only about one in 10 could boast as many as 250 downloads. Furthermore, that number of downloads is typically achieved over three months, not three weeks.

The GWW article (the initials coming from the writers' last names) reports a theoretical model to explain results obtained in helium atom experiments conducted in 1997 by a group of German physicists.

In the experiments, protons were fired at neutral helium, capturing one of the atom's electrons and ionizing the second. It was speculated that the observed results were sensitive to subtle high-order interactions between the two electrons in the target before the collision. However, for nearly eight years, scientists worldwide tried and could not find a theoretical model that was in quantitative agreement with the experiments.

The GWW theory was tested by the German experimentalists and in the end, Whelan said, "They found what we predicted, exactly where we predicted it."

"This is a very major result," Professor J. H. McGuire of Tulane University said in March. He is the chair of the Division of Atomic and Molecular Physics of the American Physical Society. "The GWW theory from Old Dominion goes to the heart of the problem. The (German) experiments, which are state of the art, have resisted theoretical explanation for some time. This now opens useful, new possibilities for probing correlation in matter, a key, but difficult problem present in various areas of science."

Also prior to the online publication of the article, Whelan and the leading German physicist involved in the experiments, Professor Horst Schmidt-Bocking, were invited to the April meeting of the APS in Tampa to present the article.

This article was posted on: May 13, 2005

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