Signatures of phase transitions in nuclei at finite excitation energies
The mean-field approximation predicts pairing and shape phase transitions in nuclei as a function of temperature or excitation energy. However in the finite nucleus the singularities of these phase transitions are smoothed out by quantal and thermal fluctuations. An interesting question is whether signatures of these transitions survive despite the large fluctuations. The shell model Monte Carlo (SMMC) approach enables us to calculate the statistical properties of nuclei beyond the mean-field approximation in model spaces that are many orders of magnitude larger than spaces that can be treated by conventional diagonalization methods. We have extended the SMMC method to heavy nuclei and used it to study the transition from vibrational (spherical) to rotational (deformed) nuclei in families of rare-earth isotopes. We have calculated collective enhancement factors of level densities as a function of excitation energy and found that the decay of the vibrational and rotational enhancements is well correlated with the pairing and shape phase transitions respectively.