- Published on 30 March 2015
Analogous to the vast amount of knowledge acquired on the electronic hydrogen atom over the last century and the success of Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), hadronic physics is using a similar system, namely “pionic hydrogen” - a hydrogen atom where the electron is replaced by a negatively charged pion - as a laboratory for investigating Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD). Like in electronic hydrogen the finite size of the proton plays a role in the precise determination of the ground state of the atom. The smaller Bohr radius of the pion offers a larger sensitivity to the strong interaction between the pion and the proton, leading, e.g., to an energy shift compared to the ground state energy if only the electromagnetic interaction is considered. The precise determination of this shift provides a benchmark of our understanding of the pion-proton strong interaction from basic principles in QCD. To this end an exquisite experiment was devised and performed at the high intensity, low energy pion beam at the Paul Scherrer Institut using a cyclotron trap and an ultimate resolution Bragg spectrometer leading to an impressive four fold improvement compared to the previous best measurement as shown in Fig. 1.
M. Hennebach et al. (2015), Hadronic shift in pionic hydrogen, European Physical Journal A 50: 190, DOI 10.1140/epja/i2014-14190-x