Physicists probe nature of the neutrino one mile underneath the alps
Scientists from The University of Manchester are part of an international team hoping to unlock the secrets of the mysterious neutrino using a cutting-edge new experiment one mile underground in the French Alps
The Super Neutrino Ettore Majorana Observatory, or SuperNEMO experiment, will look into the origin of the imbalance of matter and anti-matter in the universe. This is something that has long left physicists puzzled. It will search for the neutrino-less double-beta decay, a rare nuclear decay which – if observed – could answer some of the biggest fundamental questions in physics and cosmology.
Neutrinos are fundamental particles which, despite being the most common matter particles in the Universe, are amongst the least understood. If a neutrino-less double-beta decay is observed by SuperNEMO, it would mean the neutrino is different to all the other matter particles in that it would be its own antiparticle.
This discovery would revolutionise our understanding of the relationship between matter and antimatter, potentially giving new insights into how mass is generated, and into the origin of the imbalance of matter and anti-matter in the universe which has long left physicists puzzled.
The Modane Underground Laboratory is the deepest in Europe, 1,700m below the peak of the Frejus Mountain in the Alps. By going deep underground, the SuperNEMO experiment is shielded from the cosmic rays that continually reach the Earth’s surface, making it possible for scientists to spot the incredibly rare double-beta decay events they are interested in.
The task of building this tracker was immense: every component, from the biggest structural component, right down to the smallest of nuts and bolts, had to be produced from carefully selected, pure materials, to be as clear of natural radioactivity as possible.
Dr Justin Evans, from The University of Manchester and the UK’s Principal Investigator for SuperNEMO, said: “The UK-built tracker makes SuperNEMO stand out amongst double-beta decay experiments. It enables us to build a real picture of the radioactive decays in the detector. Not only does that give us a powerful tool for investigating the physics, but it is also critical in enabling us to reject background sources of radiation."
The UK has made a major construction contribution to SuperNEMO by delivering the gaseous tracking detector. The team from the School of Physics and Astronomy, led by Dr Evans, built the individual tracking cells for the detector.
He added: "The task of building this tracker was immense: every component, from the biggest structural component, right down to the smallest of nuts and bolts, had to be produced from carefully selected, pure materials, to be as clear of natural radioactivity as possible.
"To add to the technical challenge, the whole detector had to be assembled in a strict cleanroom environment, then packed up and relocated to a cavern deep under the Alps. Seeing this project come to fruition is hugely exciting, and is a testament to the skills and dedication of the entire UK team.”
Outside of Manchester, University College London (UCL) was responsible for assembling the cells into a complete tracker and transporting it in modules to France. Physicists from Warwick University and Imperial College took important leadership roles in developing the experiment’s simulation and analysis software frameworks. The experiment is partly funded by over £7million investment from the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).