Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Research on tiniest particles could have far-reaching effects

16.02.2004


Neutrinos are about the tiniest things in existence, but developing a greater understanding of what they are and how they function is likely to have a huge impact in the next few years.



The subatomic particles, created in the nuclear furnaces of the sun and other stars, have no electrical charge and only recently has it been found that they have any mass at all, yet billions pour through each human body every second with no discernable effect or interaction.

Still, the very slight mass each neutrino possesses is enough for all of them together to be comparable to the mass of all the stars and planets of the universe, said John F. Wilkerson, a University of Washington physicist who is working at the forefront of neutrino research. He will discuss the future of neutrino physics research Sunday during a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle.


While neutrino research might seem esoteric to some, Wilkerson believes it has broader impact.

"You can never predict the future of what the spinoffs will be," he said. "We’re trying to have a better understanding of the universe, and because we’re pushing the technology there are some interesting technological spinoffs."

He concedes that current neutrino experiments and ones that follow are unlikely to have much direct impact on most people’s daily lives, but they will bring technological advances. For instance, neutrino science is improving techniques for making clean materials, since the laboratories are among the cleanest places in the world in terms of background radiation.

Inside those labs are neutrino detectors – huge tanks filled with hundreds of thousands of gallons of ultrapure water or other liquid ideal for observing ionizing particle reactions. But those detectors also keep vigil, watching for a star in our galaxy that explodes into a supernova. A sudden burst of neutrinos, lasting less than a minute, can let scientists know of the supernova in time to make astronomical observations.

Technologies developed for neutrino detectors also can be adapted for security needs, such as detecting clandestine nuclear weapons tests or possibly detecting nuclear material being smuggled through a seaport.

Neutrinos come in three types, or flavors: electron, tau and muon. One project in which Wilkerson has played a major role, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario, two years ago provided definitive evidence that not only do neutrinos have mass, but that they change willy-nilly from one flavor to another as they flit through air or matter.

This answered a question that had puzzled scientists for decades – why there seemed to be fewer neutrinos coming from our sun than theory predicted. The answer was that the neutrinos were there, but only one type could be detected. Finding the other types solved that problem, and led to the realization that neutrinos do have mass, contrary to the accepted rules of physics.

"Science, in answering one question, has opened up a whole area of new and interesting questions," Wilkerson said – questions such as what role neutrinos played in the early universe, how stars explode and how those explosions create heavy elements such as copper and lead.

"If we want to understand the way these elements are created, as we are trying to do, there’s no way to do that without understanding neutrinos," he said.

That lends greater importance to an upgrade of the Sudbury experiment that will allow it for the first time to be able to differentiate in real time between types of neutrino reactions. It also shows the significance of an experiment in Japan called KamLAND, which examines the properties of antineutrinos generated by a number of nuclear reactors at Japanese power plants.

Wilkerson believes the work at Sudbury and KamLAND in the next few years will emphasize a growing need for an underground science laboratory in the United States. Currently there are a handful of major dedicated underground labs in the world, but the deepest is less than a mile below the surface and new experiments need depths of perhaps 7,000 feet or more.

There are several proposals to build an underground lab in the United States, including a closed gold mine in South Dakota, beneath Washington state’s Cascade Range and next to an old iron mine in Minnesota. There are many advantages for the U.S. to have an underground lab, Wilkerson said: it would be a boon to education on all levels, would help train a future force of scientists, and would let the work of U.S. scientists be accomplished here, he said.

"There’s been a long history in the last 30 or more years that there have been good ideas in the United States, and they’ve been done at underground labs around the world but not in the United States because we didn’t have a facility," he said. "There’s a real compelling need based on the science, and there are a lot of potential benefits."


For more information, contact Wilkerson at 206-616-2744, 206-685-9061 or jfw@u.washington.edu

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers
24.01.2017 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS

nachricht European XFEL prepares for user operation: Researchers can hand in first proposals for experiments
24.01.2017 | European XFEL GmbH

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>