Kaitlin Cook

Assistant Professor of Physics


  • Joined the laboratory in 2020
  • Experimental nuclear physics
  • Contact information

Education and training

  • BSc (Advanced) (Honours), Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics, The Australian National University, 2012
  • PhD, Nuclear Physics, The Australian National University, 2017


My group studies reactions at energies near the fusion barrier, where the structure of colliding nuclei have profound influence on reaction outcomes. We have two areas of focus. Firstly, we aim to understand nuclear reactions of exotic nuclei that are “weakly-bound”, having low thresholds to removing some number of protons and neutrons. Some of these nuclei even have “halos” of nuclei around a central core. Their reaction outcomes are very different compared to those of regular nuclei. As more exotic weakly-bound isotopes become accessible at FRIB, it is becoming critical to understand the role of weakbinding and associated cluster structures in reactions.

In addition, we study processes that prevent superheavy element production. The evaporation residue crosssections in reactions forming the heaviest superheavy elements are extremely small. This is primarily because of separation of nuclei before they can fully equilibrate (quasifission). In quasifission, small changes in nuclear properties of the colliding nuclei have a huge effect on the time-scale and probability of quasifission. It is therefore crucial to understand the effect of the nuclear structure of colliding nuclei on quasifission outcomes.

In both cases, we learn a lot about reactions by performing clever experiments that measure the energy and angular correlations of charged particles. In doing so we infer a lot of information about when, where, and how breakup occurs.


I’m originally from Perth in Western Australia, and I completed my undergraduate degree, PhD, and first postdoc in the Nuclear Reactions group at the Australian National University in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. There, I became interested in nuclear reactions that occur at energies near the fusion barrier. At these energies, the outcomes of nuclear reactions are extremely sensitive probes of the interplay between nuclear structure and reaction dynamics. This interplay can enhance fusion cross-sections by a factor of ~100!

After my time at the ANU, I was a JSPS fellow at Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, where I studied the structure of exotic nuclei that have very extended matter distributions – “halo nucle”. Now at FRIB, I like to combine my interests and study the influence of exotic nuclear structures on reaction outcomes at near-barrier energies. Designing experiments that help us understand the huge variety of phenomena that occur is a significant intellectual challenge. Our knowledge of nuclear reactions has important consequences on understanding the origins of the elements, choosing the right reaction for making the next superheavy elements, and in uses of nuclear reactions for society.

How students can contribute as part of my research team

PhD projects are available in studying reactions with weakly bound nuclei and in studying the processes that prevent superheavy element creation. Students in the group contribute to the development of new detector systems and analysis methods to measure breakup, fusion, and fission with beams from ReA6 provided by FRIB. Complementing the discovery physics performed at FRIB, students will also run and analyze precision stable beam experiments held at the Australian National University, as well as collaborate with reaction theorists. The larger “palette” of nuclei that will be available with FRIB means that we are entering an exciting new era for near-barrier reaction studies. The main tool for these studies are large-acceptance position-sensitive chargedparticle detectors, which allow us to measure energy and angular correlations of charged particles produced in nuclear reactions.

Scientific publications