In with the new

January 3, 1997

What will the sciences look like in 1997 and who will be the people to watch? Graham Lawton, in the final part of the series, spots the projects to watch

SOLAR NEUTRINO EXPERIMENT

Some 6,800 feet underneath the Ontario countryside, in a huge custom-built cavern, a see-through acrylic globe 12 metres across hangs suspended in a 7,000 tonne tank of pure water. The globe is filled with 1,000 tonnes of a special liquid called heavy water. Its job is to detect solar neutrinos.

When the globe's detectors come on line in the summer, David Wark of Oxford University, part of a British/Canadian team of neutrino hunters, expects to hear a familiar tale: too few neutrinos. After running the experiment for six months he will pour two tonnes of magnesium chloride into the globe and twiddle the neutrino detectors, looking for traces of other kinds of neutrino.

If Wark and his colleagues discover that solar neutrinos change form during the passage to earth they will have found what they are looking for - a hole in the Standard Model. That could lead to a modification of the model, fine reward for an experiment that has taken over a decade to design and build.

But Dr Ward is not counting his neutrinos. "It is possible we will find other things," he says. "In physics, what comes out is often different from what you expect."

CASSINI-HUYGENS MISSION

When the Cassini-Huygens mission blasts off from Cape Canavaral in October it will be the start of 11 years of work for Carl Murray of Queen Mary and Westfield College in London. Murray and his colleagues on the imaging team expect to deal with over half a million photographs once the craft reaches Saturn.

"My own interest is in rings and small satellites," says Dr Murray. "Saturn is wonderful from that point of view. You're looking at a planet incorporating features of all known ring systems."

The mission will allow Murray to watch how Saturn's rings develop with time. He hopes to find evidence that the rings, which are made of ice particles, collapse inward towards the planet after they form. The small satellites, he says, should simultaneously move outwards at a rate of a few centimetres a year.

The mission will also drop a probe on to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which is thought to have an atmosphere similar to that on the primitive earth. Research on Titan could offer clues to how life evolved on our own planet. "Titan is an intriguing object," says Dr Murray. "If you want to look at the origins of life then it is the place to go."

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