Numerical simulation of quark-gluon plasma formed in the collision of two gold atoms.

Calculations used to produce this figure are from this work.


Quarks and gluons are fundamental building blocks of matter. Their interactions are governed by Quantum Chromodynamics, one of the core parts of the Standard Model of particle physics.

Microseconds after the Big Bang, a plasma of quarks and gluons filled the Universe. As the Universe expanded, its temperature decreased until quarks and gluons could combine into protons, neutrons, nuclei and other bound states.

Aerial view of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory

Quark-gluon plasma can now be produced in laboratory, by colliding large nuclei at velocities close to the speed of light. The two colliders that can achieve this feat are the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory (New York) and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (Switzerland/France).

Relativistic collisions of two lead nuclei as seen by the CMS detector circa 2011

Quark-gluon plasma is never seen directly: its existence and properties must be inferred from the shower of subatomic particles that hits the detector (image on the right). I study the properties of quark-gluon plasma using multi-stage numerical simulations whose core is relativistic viscous fluid dynamics.

I also use Bayesian inference to quantify the properties of quark-gluon plasma with reliable uncertainties. The specific shear viscosity of quark-gluon plasma is among the smallest ever measured in a liquid (an honour shared with cold atomic gases); it is orders of magnitude smaller than that of liquid helium, for example.

Temperature dependence of the specific shear viscosity

The figure on the left shows a recent constraint on the specific shear viscosity η/s of quark-gluon plasma as a function of the plasma's temperature (the orange band is a Bayesian model average, the bottom panel is the posterior-prior Kullback–Leibler divergence). This result is the product of a multi-institution collaboration, obtained from millions of core-hours of calculations on US supercomputers.

While the viscosity of strongly-coupled quark-gluon plasma is famously difficult to calculate, the long-term objective is to find agreement between measurements of the viscosity and ab initio calculations.

App to visualize the effect of shear and bulk viscosity on measured observables

On the right is an app that we made to visualize the results of the effect of the shear and bulk viscosity of quark-gluon plasma. The points in the figures are measurements from the Large Hadron Collider. The sliders on the left are all the parameters of the models that must be constrained by comparison with measurements. Half of these parameters are used to vary the temperature dependence of the shear and bulk viscosity.

I also study Apparent temperature of quark-gluon plasma as seen through the photon energy spectrum, as a function of the true maximum temperature of the plasma and of the energy range of the measured photons the production of photons by the quark-gluon plasma. Because the quark-gluon plasma produced in nuclear collisions is small, photons can escape with negligible rescattering, and they can be used to probe deep into the hottest and densest parts of the plasma. Recently, I have used analytical solutions of relativistic fluid dynamics (the "Gubser solution") to better understand the relation between the energy spectrum of photons, the temperature of the plasma and the Doppler shift on photons resulting from the plasma's expansion. The figure on the left shows the relation between the actual maximum temperature of the plasma and the apparent ("effective") temperature extracted from the photon spectrum in different energy ranges.


I am a member of the Vanderbilt Initiative for Gravity, Waves, and Fluids (VandyGRAF), which brings together 20+ faculty, postdocs and graduate students from physics, astrophysics and math for weekly seminars and discussions. We have been hosting a stellar lineup of visitors across disciplines, which you can see here.

I am also a member of the JETSCAPE Collaboration. Since 2018, I have been co-convener of the Simulation and Distribution Computing Working Group, one of the four working groups of the collaboration, which focuses on the soft sector of heavy-ion collisions, and in particular on Bayesian studies using low-energy hadron measurements from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and the Large Hadron Collider.

Undergraduate research opportunities

Reach out if you are interested in an undergraduate research project:

Projects of interest include
  • Relativistic fluid dynamics
  • Numerical simulations of relativistic nuclear collisions and data analysis
  • Perturbative field theory
  • Bayesian inference, emulation, machine learning

Sample of previous undergraduate research projects:


Fall 2022 & 2023

PHYS 8010: Particle and Continuum Mechanics

We used Goldstein as reference, but for many topics, excellent lecture notes are available, including David Tong's.

Winter 2022 (Duke) & 2023

Introduction to Fluid Dynamics (for nuclear collisions)

Too few people have had the chance to watch this series of videos from 1961:
See for example, Sir G.I. Taylor himself explain [non-relativistic] fluid dynamics at low Reynolds numbers.
These videos are a reminder of the decades of experimentation it took to establish the foundations of non-relativistic fluid dynamics.

Selected recent presentations

Nuclear collisions as seen through photons
Nuclear physics seminar (Nov 2022, MIT)

Flow and transport properties: Assessment and outlook
Invited talk at the 2022 Hot and Cold QCD Town Hall meeting (Sept 2022, MIT)

Matching conditions across time evolution stages of ultrarelativistic heavy-ion collisions
Plenary talk prepared for Initial Stages 2021

Multi-system Bayesian constraints on the transport coefficients of QCD
Parallel talk prepared for Quark Matter 2019 (Wuhan), on behalf of the JETSCAPE Collaboration


A complete list of my publications is available on INSPIRE [ INSPIRE profile ], with links to the published versions and the (free) arXiv versions. Google Scholar is also eerily good at finding my work.

In the summer of 2018, I wrote a manual for the heavy-ion hydrodynamic simulation code MUSIC as support material for lectures I gave at a workshop at the University of São Paulo. Since then, a new official version of MUSIC has been published, and I updated the manual accordingly for this new version: here. The older version of MUSIC is still usable, of course; its manual remains available here. While it is MUSIC-oriented, the manual should provide a good overview of the physics behind hydrodynamic simulations of heavy-ion collisions in general.


Master's: Photon and neutral pion production in d+Au collisions at RHIC
PhD: Characterizing the non-equilibrium quark-gluon plasma with photons and hadrons

Scientific software


We use relativistic viscous fluid dynamics to describe the spacetime expansion of quark-gluon plasma. MUSIC is a full 3+1D code developed in McGill that has been widely used by us and others to study heavy-ion collisions.

The official website is

The latest version of the code is available here:

A legacy version of the code is hosted on Sourceforce:

In 2018, I wrote a manual for the code, which I have updated since to keep up with changes in the code:


KøMPøST: a kinetic theory propagator for the early stage of heavy-ion collisions

Other codes: My Github

A few highlights:


Jean-François Paquet
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Assistant Professor of Physics and Mathematics
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

Previous position:

Postdoctoral Researcher and Research Scientist
Department of Physics
Duke University
Durham, NC

Postdoctoral Researcher
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY


Master's and PhD in Physics
Under the supervision of Prof. Charles Gale
McGill University, Montréal

Bachelor's degree in Physics
Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke