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The study of the atomic nucleus, core of the atom and carrier of essentially all visible mass in the Universe, has undergone a major re-orientation in the last decades and has seen the emergence of new frontiers. In particular the availability of exotic, very short-lived nuclei, both as collected samples and as energetic beams of different energies has opened the road towards the experimental exploration of the structure and dynamics of complex nuclei in regions far away from stability, where very limited information is available. Among the harbingers of the exciting new topics emerging from this research is, for example, the appearance of single- and double-nucleon (Borromean) halo states as well as the breakdown of the magic numbers, the long-standing benchmark for basic nuclear structure.

Thus, the ability to produce samples and beams of exotic unstable nuclei has transformed nuclear science. The resulting extension in our knowledge will pose a considerable challenge to our present theoretical understanding of the atomic nucleus. Nuclei are two-component (protons and neutrons) many-body systems, whose structure is most decisively governed by the strong force. It is a fascinating challenge to develop a complete understanding of how this complex many-body system is built from simple ingredients. Studies of atomic nuclei are thus intimately linked with those on fundamental interactions and on sub-nucleonic degrees of freedom and address a large range of essential questions concerning nuclear structure, nuclear dynamics and nuclear astrophysics. Significant advances have been made in the theoretical modeling of nuclear structure, from ‘ab inito’ calculations of few-nucleon systems, based on bare nucleon-nucleon interactions, to various shell model methods using sophisticated truncation schemes, and mean-field methods using density functional theory. It is a major aim of nuclear theory to explore connections between these approaches in order to develop a unified description of the nucleus.

The atomic nucleus displays many astonishing regularities and simple excitation patterns. The reason for the emergence of these phenomena is connected to the fundamental role of symmetries for the structure and dynamics of the nuclear manybody system. At the limits of nuclear existence, in particular near the driplines, different symmetries and structural paradigms may be found, often very different from those of stable nuclei. Rather diffuse surface zones, so called halos, have been observed in light neutron-rich exotic nuclei. Among other features unique to such nuclei, one expects to encounter novel types of shell structures, new collective modes, new isospin pairing phases, new decay modes as double proton emission, or regions of nuclei with special deformations and symmetries. The effects of nucleonic clustering should become more prominent, giving rise to unusual nuclear properties.

The experimental possibilities to study exotic nuclear systems have to some extent exploded over the past one or two decades due to impressive technical developments for production of rare nuclear species, both at rest and as energetic beams, new sophisticated detection methods and data acquisition techniques with on- and off-line analysis methods. Parallel to these developments there have been major advances in nuclear theory, from effective field theory to many-body approaches and computational methods. Much of the progress owes to interactions between experiment and theory. In particular the study of light nuclei has played an important role, because their structure and reactions may be modeled using different theoretical approaches.

Today this field is very well established at many laboratories worldwide due to the aforementioned development of new and better beams and detection methods. In addition it has been decided to make major leaps in the experimental possibilities at many places. Decisions have for instance been taken to build the FAIR Facility at GSI, the SPIRAL2 Facility at GANIL, HIE ISOLDE at CERN, FRIB at Michigan State University, ARIEL at TRIUMF, and the RIBF Facility at RIKEN. Furthermore, there are advanced European plans to build EURISOL, which would be a major facility and complementary to FAIR.

The attractive feature of this part of nuclear science is that it addresses fundamental questions like: What is the nature of the strong force that binds protons and neutrons into more and more exotic isotopes? What is the origin of the simple patterns in complex nuclear systems? What is the nature of neutron stars and dense nuclear matter? What is the origin the elements? What nuclear reactions drive stars and stellar explosions where the elements are born?

It has been proposed to organize a Nobel Symposium covering many different aspects of this very rapidly developing field of nuclear science. The purpose is to get the leading scientists working in the field together to exchange ideas, summarize the status of different aspects of the field and help providing a base for further developments, both experimentally and theoretically. Scientists covering the most interesting aspects of the field, both senior and younger scientists are invited. It is intended to have detailed overview talks from the active participants. The high status of a Nobel Symposium is a major challenge.

The different themes presented and discussed by the leading scientists in the world in this field should be both inspirational and educative for the younger generation of scientists.

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Last modified: June 08, 2012
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