£1bn UK factory to solve mystery of matter

July 5, 2002

One of the great mysteries of nature - why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe - could be probed by a new £1 billion neutrino factory that physicists want built in the UK.

The facility would produce a beam of the lightest-known particles, each with a mass less than a millionth of an electron, using an array of yet-to-be-developed technology.

Experts have been discussing the prospects for such an experiment at the fourth international neutrino factory workshop - NuFact02 - held at Imperial College, London, this week.

British delegates are hopeful that the facility could be constructed in the UK, providing a boost for particle physics.

Their optimism is based on the UK's track record in the field and a growing consensus that the £10 million key feasibility study for a vital element of the giant instrument should be based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) near Oxford.

The project would require a global collaboration.

Ken Long, reader in physics at Imperial, said the UK would have to win out over a number of other nations eager to host the facility.

"Construction of the neutrino factory at the RAL provides the biggest opportunity for the creation of a world-class particle physics facility in the UK in the next few decades," he said.

Neutrinos are known to exist in large quantities, and seem able to change from one form to another.

Experiments have studied the properties of neutrinos that originated in the sun or that were created in the earth's atmosphere by subatomic collisions.

This work has already picked holes in existing theory.

Neutrino factory experiments would be more accurate and controllable. They could help reveal why matter predominates over antimatter when equal quantities would have been created in the Big Bang.

They might also shed light on how matter began to clump together in the early universe before the first galaxies formed.

The feasibility study aims to design, build, commission and operate a muon ionisation cooling experiment, which would be a vital part of the neutrino factory.

The team of 150 physicists involved has identified the RAL as the ideal location for their work.

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