Last time, the differential cross section discussion is based on quantum mechanics. This time, i try to explain it will out any math. so, that my mum ask me, i can tell her and make her understand. :)
in a scattering experiment, think about a target, say, a proton fixed in the center, it is positive charged. if another proton coming with some energy. it will get repelled, due to the repulsive nature of Coulomb force of same charge. it should be easy to understand, if the proton coming with high energy, it will get closer to the target, or even enter inside the target.
the repelling angle of the proton is not just depend on the energy it carry, but also on the impact parameter ( we usually call it b , but i like to call it r). the impact parameter is the shortest distance between the target and the line of the moving direction of the proton at long long away.
if the impact parameter is large, the proton miss the target. it almost cannot feel the target affection. thus, it go straight and unaffected. when the r is zero, it will hit the target head on head. and due to the repulsion. it will return back. so, we can understand. the smaller the impact parameter, the deflection will be larger. since it can feel the force stronger.
For same impact parameter, the higher energy proton will have less deflection, since it travel faster, spend less time by the force, and the deflection get less.
Thus, we have an idea that the angle of deflection is high for small impact parameter and high energy. And most important, it only depends on these 2 factors and the effect from the target.
since our detector can only detect some small angle over some small area. So, we can place out detector on some angle, get the yield, and this is the name – differential cross section come from.
Now, we have a uniform flow of particle with energy E. they will be deflected by the target and go to some angles. If we detect at the deflection angle, see how many particles ( the yield ) we can get in each angle. we can calculate back the effect of the target. For example, for a small angle, the particle get little defected, and this means the particle is from large impact parameter. for a large angle, the particles are from small impact parameter.
In some cases, the number of particle detected will be very high at some particular angle then others angles and this means, the cross section is large. and this means something interesting.
Moreover, don’t forget we can change the energy of the beam. for some suitable energy, the particle will being absorbed or resonance with the target. that given us low or high cross section on the energy spectrum.
( the graph is an unauthorized from the link: http://www.astm.org/Standards/E496.htm )
The above diagram is the differential cross section obtained from a Deuteron to a Tritium ( an isotope of Hydrogen with 2 neutrons and 1 proton) target, and the reaction change the Tritium into Helium and a neutron get out.
The reaction notation is
where a is incident particle, X is target, b is out come particle, and Y is the residual particle.
the horizontal axis is detector angle at lab-frame. and the vertical axis is energy of Tritium. we always neglect the angle 0 degree, because it means no deflection and the particle does not “see” the target. at low energy, the d.c.s. is just cause by Coulomb force. but when the energy gets higher and higher, there is a peak around 60 degree. this peak is interesting, because it penetrated into the Helium and reveal the internal structure of it. it tells us, beside of the Coulomb force, there are another force inside. that force make the particle deflects to angle 60 degree. for more detail analysis, we need mathematic. i wish someday, i can explain those mathematics in a very simple way.
Therefore, we can think that, for higher energy beam, the size we can “see” will be smaller. if we think a particle accelerator is a microscope. higher energy will have larger magnification power. That’s why we keep building large and larger machines.