Low-energy heavy-ion fusion reactions are governed by quantum tunneling through the Coulomb barrier formed by the strong cancellation of the repulsive Coulomb force with the attractive nuclear interaction between the colliding nuclei. Extensive experimental as well as theoretical studies have revealed that fusion reactions are strongly influenced by couplings of the relative motion of the colliding nuclei to several nuclear intrinsic motions. Heavy-ion subbarrier fusion reactions thus provide a good opportunity to address the general problem of quantum tunneling in the presence of couplings, which has been a popular subject in recent decades in many branches of physics and chemistry. Here, we review theoretical aspects of heavy-ion subbarrier fusion reactions from the viewpoint of quantum tunneling in systems with many degrees of freedom. Particular emphases are put on the coupled-channels approach to fusion reactions and the barrier distribution representation for multichannel penetrability. We also discuss an application of the barrier distribution method to elucidate the mechanism of the dissociative adsorption of H2 molecules in surface science.
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