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Advances in High Energy Physics
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 242918, 6 pages
Research Article

Calibrating the In-Medium Behavior of Quarkonia

Fakultät für Physik, Universität Bielefeld, D-33501 Bielefeld, Germany

Received 20 March 2013; Accepted 3 April 2013

Academic Editor: Jan E. Alam

Copyright © 2013 Helmut Satz. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Quarkonium production has been considered as a tool to study the medium formed in high-energy nuclear collisions, assuming that the formation of a hot and dense environment modifies the production pattern observed in elementary collisions. The basic features measured there are the relative fractions of hidden to open heavy flavor and the relative fractions of the different hidden heavy flavor states. Hence the essential question is if and how these quantities are modified in nuclear collisions. We show how the relevant data must be calibrated; that is, what reference has to be used, in order to determine this in a model-independent way.

The original suggestion for charmonium production as a means to test the formation of a deconfined medium in high-energy nuclear collisions was based on the idea that color screening in such a medium would prevent the binding of charm quarks to a color neutral [1]. The production process in elementary hadronic collisions (taking as an example) begins with the formation of a pair; this pair can then either lead to open charm production (about 90%) or subsequently bind to form a charmonium state (about 10% for all charmonia). A schematic illustration (Figure 1) shows the dominant high-energy reaction through gluon fusion.

Figure 1: Schematic view of production in collisions.

The initial production can be calculated in terms of the parton distribution functions of the relevant hadrons and the perturbative partonic cross-section. The full description of charmonium binding has so far resisted various theoretical attempts; on the other hand, the process is in good approximation independent of the incident hadronic collision energy [2, 3]. This is a consequence of the fact that the heavy quark propagator in the reaction strongly dampens the mass variation of the pair with incident energy. Thus the fractions of the produced system into hidden versus open charm as well as those for the different charmonium states are approximately constant; once determined at one energy, they remain the same also for different energies. As a result, the phenomenological color evaporation model [47] provides a good description of charmonium production through the form and correspondingly for the other charmonium states. Here the constant specifies what fraction of the total production cross-section goes into production; in collisions, it is typically about 2%. The set of the different constants for the different charmonium states thus effectively characterizes charmonium production in the absence of a medium.

A further important aspect of quarkonium production in elementary collisions is that the observed (1S) ground states and are in both cases partially produced through feed-down from higher excited states [811]. Of the observed rates, only some 60% is a directly produced state; about 30% comes from and 10% from decay. Because of the narrow width of the excited states, their decay occurs well outside any interaction region.

The features we have here summarized for charm and charmonium production are readily extended to that of bottom and bottomonium. To simplify the discussion, we will continue referring to the charmonium case, keeping in mind that all arguments apply as well to bottomonia. Given the patterns observed in elementary collisions, we want to see how they are modified in the presence of a medium, as provided by nuclear collisions. From the point of view of production dynamics, one way such modifications can arise is as initial state effects, which take place before the pair is produced. The main possibilities considered so far are nuclear modifications of the parton distribution functions (shadowing or antishadowing) and a possible energy loss of the partons passing through the nuclear medium to produce the . Once produced, the pair can encounter final state effects, either in the form of a phase space shift already of the , for example, through an energy loss of the unbound charm quarks, or through effects on the nascent or fully formed charmonium state. Such effects may arise from the passage through the cold nuclear medium or because of the presence of the medium newly produced in the nuclear collision. The latter is evidently what we have in mind when we want to use quarkonia to study quark-gluon plasma production. The difficulties encountered over the past years [12, 13] in arriving at a conclusive analysis of the relevant nuclear collision data on production are largely due to the problem of parametrizing the different effects and then constructing a convincing model correctly incorporating all of them. We want to show here that today experimental means have become available which allow us to calibrate the measured results in a way which avoids these difficulties.

Before we turn to the problem of determining medium effects on quarkonium production, we recall the two main conceptual approaches on what may happen; the two can perhaps best be labelled suppression and enhancement. Color screening in a quark-gluon plasma will decrease the quarkonium binding, both in strength and in its spatial range, and this should for sufficiently energetic nucleus-nucleus collisions lead to quarkonium dissociation or melting. Since the larger and less tightly bound states will melt at lower temperature or energy density than the ground states, color screening will produce sequential suppression [14, 15]. We illustrate this for the . After an initial threshold melting the and hence removing its feed-down component for production, there will be a second threshold for melting and then finally a third, at which the direct is dissociated. The resulting pattern is illustrated in Figure 2. We have here introduced something denoted as survival probability. Theoretically, this is the chance of a to persist as a bound state in a deconfined medium. How to properly define this quantity as a useful observable in experimental studies is the subject of this paper.

Figure 2: Schematic view of sequential suppression in a deconfined medium.

The other alternative, enhancement, assumes, in accord with color screening and the resulting suppression, that at sufficiently high energies there is an almost complete dissociation of the ’s produced in primary nucleon-nucleon interactions. On the other hand, at such collision energies, these interactions lead to abundant production; the rate for this process grows faster than that for the production of light quarks, and if the pairs remain present in the evolution of the medium, the system will at the hadronisation point show an oversaturation of charm, compared to the predicted thermal abundance. If these charm quarks have become part of an equilibrated medium and as such undergo hadronisation in the form of statistical combination, then such secondary charmonium formation can convert more pairs into ’s than the dynamical primary production mechanism, thus leading to an effective enhancement [1619], as shown in Figure 3. We note that this scenario invokes a new and so far unknown binding dynamics to form charmonia; the outcome is assumed to be determined simply by the relative abundance of charm quarks [20].

Figure 3: Schematic view of secondary production through statistical combination.

We now come to our central question: how to calibrate the survival? Since we are interested in using quarkonium production as a tool to study the medium produced in nuclear collisions, our primary concern is not if such collisions produce more or fewer pairs than proton-proton collisions, but rather if the presence of the medium modifies the fraction of produced pairs going into charmonium formation. In other words, the crucial quantity is the amount of charmonium production relative to that of open charm [21]. To illustrate, in collisions, about 2% of the total production goes into ’s. If in high-energy nuclear collisions the total production rate was reduced by a factor two, but we still have 2% of these going into ’s, then evidently collisions do not modify binding. This is, of course, strictly true only for fully integrated rates, which is difficult to check; we return to the issue of phase space variations shortly. But we note here already that in the example just given the number of ’s produced in collisions would be half of that obtained by scaling the results from interactions. That is, however, not an indication of any suppression; it is just the consequence of having fewer pairs to start with, the formation probability of charmonia has remained the same as in collisions, 2%. It is thus crucial to correctly calibrate the survival in nuclear collisions.

To achieve that, we recall in both sequential suppression and statistical enhancement state that the total number of pairs produced in nuclear collisions is distributed among hidden and open charm differently than it is in proton-proton collisions. The essential observable is thus the ratio of charmonium states to open charm in nuclear collisions, compared to that in interactions. Sequential suppression predicts it to decrease with centrality and eventually vanish, statistical enhancement has it increasing with centrality, in many studies beyond the value. Hence the relevant observable is the fraction of charmonia to open charm, or more generally, that of quarkonia to the relevant open heavy flavor production [21, 22]. In this quantity, if measured over the entire phase space, the effects of possible initial state nuclear modifications—shadowing/antishadowing, parton energy loss—cancel out, so that whatever changes it shows relative to the pattern are due to final state effects.

It should be noted here that in actual applications, it will most likely not be necessary (nor generally possible) to measure the total open charm production rate. The relative abundances of the different open charm states produced in high energy collisions are so far found to be in good agreement with the predictions of the statistical hadronisation model [23, 24], with a universal hadronisation temperature of some 150–170 MeV. For open charm production, this model assumes an initial dynamical (perturbative) production; subsequently, at the hadronisation point, the charm quarks thus produced form open charm hadrons according to their statistical abundances. The relative production rates are thus totally determined in terms of the mass of the open charm state and the universal hadronisation temperature. Such a description is found to hold very well for open charm production in high-energy interactions from annihilation through and collisions; studies of the behavior are underway. However, the model does not work for charmonium production, neither in elementary (, ) nor in nuclear interactions, since the binding mechanism forming charmonia is evidently of dynamical and not of statistical origin. In nuclear collisions, there are in addition medium effects on the binding.

As a consequence, we expect that the relative abundances of the different open charm states will not depend on the collision energy and remain essentially the same for elementary and nuclear collisions. Analogous to (1), the production rate for a specific open charm state is then a constant fraction of the total open charm rate : The crucial observable, the rate of ()/open charm, can thus in good approximation be taken as the rate of ()/ for a specific -meson state. This will, of course, greatly facilitate the analysis.

The final state effect of interest to us is that caused by the newly produced medium. We, therefore, have to check to what extent the nascent or fully formed is already dissociated by the cold nuclear matter of the target or the projectile. This can be done by studying the ratio hidden to open charm in high-energy collisions. It is in fact known that in such interactions there exist reductions of production beyond the scaled results, but the origin of these is not unambiguously clarified. They could arise largely from initial state effects; but if there is a stronger suppression of than of at energies for which the state is formed inside the nuclear medium, this would indicate that there the interaction depends on its physical size. The different fates of the different quarkonium states in cold nuclear matter are due to their different sizes, in a hot medium due to the different binding energies. And dissociation by color screening should start with a threshold, while the breakup in nuclear matter is presumably continuous. Measurements of charmonia relative to open charm in up to highest energies (RHIC, LHC) are, therefore, of great importance.

First applications of the in-medium charmonium study based on the relative survival of charmonia versus open charm were started last year, using LHC data from ALICE and CMS [2528]. In Figure 4(a), we show mid-rapidity ALICE data for production at intermediate transverse momenta, compared to open charm production in a similar kinematic region. In Figure 4(b), the comparison is extended to larger transverse momenta, using CMS data for production. In both cases, production relative to results, scaled by the number of collisions, decreases with increasing centrality, as seen by the corresponding values.

Figure 4: LHC data from ALICE and CMS [2628], comparing production to open charm production at intermediate (a) and high (b) transverse momenta.

This decrease has at times been considered as suppressed production. However, that is incorrect; the corresponding for open charm production, as determined through measurements, shows within errors the same behavior. In other words, the reduction of the is in complete agreement with that of open charm; there is neither suppression nor enhancement; the fraction of the produced pairs going into production has remained the same in the collisions which are considered here as in the corresponding interactions: with denoting the scaling factor for the number of collisions at the corresponding centrality. We, therefore, have at all centralities, in the kinematic regime indicated. If we divide the rates by the open charm rates in the same kinematic region (large ), this ratio becomes centrality independent, and if we normalize it to the corresponding value from collisions, it becomes unity. The correct and model-independent survival probability for experimental study is thus In the kinematic regime considered so far, it is indeed unity, there is neither suppression nor enhancement.

At the LHC, corresponding data for low open charm production is not yet available. At RHIC, however, it is provided by the PHENIX and STAR collaborations [2933], and the relevant comparisons of versus open charm production are shown in Figure 5. At high we have a similar behavior as at the LHC, no change of production relative to open charm. At low , however, the of open charm is within errors unity over the whole centrality range; in contrast, decreases strongly and thus here gives the correct survival probability. We see that now with increasing centrality, a smaller and smaller fraction of pairs go into production, with a suppression of up to 75% for the most central collisions. The production finally surviving could conceivably be large due to corona interactions [34].

Figure 5: RHIC data from PHENIX and STAR [3033], comparing production to open charm production at high (a) and low (b) transverse momenta.

In this context it seems of interest to note that a decrease of the open charm production rates between central and forward rapidity is observed in both and collisions relative to collisions, at Fermilab () and at RHIC (Cu-Cu). We note in particular in the Fermilab data based on 800 GeV collisions (see Figure 6) that at forward rapidity there is a suppression of open charm production, relative to scaled rates [3538], while at midrapidity there is not. A similar effect is observed in collisions with  GeV at RHIC [39]. If this is passed on to charmonium production, one expects for RHIC and LHC data a smaller at forward than at mid-rapidity, simply because there are fewer pairs there to form charmonia, no matter how. Such an effect was indeed observed at RHIC and has often been considered a puzzle [40].

Figure 6: The rapidity dependence of open charm production in collisions at 800 GeV, parametrized in the form [3538].

The aim of this work was to show how quarkonium production has to be calibrated in order to obtain experiment-based, model-independent information on suppression or enhancement due to the hot medium formed in nuclear collisions. The data cited are given for illustration, to make the point. In a more complete study, the transverse momentum range of and open charm should be correlated more precisely. The crucial question now remains, of course, how the open charm rates for low production at the LHC will behave. That kinematic region is responsible for the bulk of production, and the issue to be decided is if nuclear collisions do or do not lead to an overall reduction. At RHIC, that is, not the case, as Figure 5(b) shows.


It is a pleasure for the author to thank Zaida Conesa del Valle, Torsten Dahms, Louis Kluberg, Mike Leitch, Carlos Lourenço, and Jürgen Schukraft for helpful discussions. Particular thanks go to Torsten Dahms also for pointing out the applicability of RHIC data for the analysis and for providing the author with the corresponding Figures.


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