Brussels, 23 Mar 2005
An international project, headed by the UK, will investigate the mechanisms of the Big Bang and how our Universe was created.
The ground breaking project, which was awarded 9.7 million GBP (14 million euro) by the UK government, will develop state of the art technology to study the characteristics of mysterious neutrino particles and build a unique engineering technology demonstrator at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK.
Known as MICE (Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment), the project brings together 140 international physicists and engineers from Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, UK, Japan, Russia, Switzerland and the US.
As the UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) explains, scientists already know that neutrino particles are formed when a muon - an important element in particle physics - decays, and that controlling the supply of muons will have a direct impact on the production of neutrinos. 'This experiment will be the first step in building an innovative neutrino factory, a futuristic facility which will allow scientists to explore exciting new areas of physics which are not yet understood,' states the DTI.
This dedicated Neutrino Factory is expected to be built within the next five years.
For the past 30 years, scientists have used the Standard Model of Particle Physics to explain the fundamental particles and forces of nature. According to the Standard Model, neutrinos have no mass. Yet recent observations of solar neutrinos have shown that they oscillate between three forms- electron, tau and muons- during their journey from the sun to the earth. Since oscillations can only occur if neutrinos have mass, this implies that the Standard Model is either incomplete or wrong.
MICE will therefore study the behaviour of muons as they pass through materials and are then accelerated. 'In this way, scientists will learn how to create bunches of muons having similar energies and travelling in the same direction, which can then be accelerated and stored within the Neutrino Factory as part of the process to explore the characteristics of the neutrino to unprecedented accuracy, reshaping our understanding of the structure of nature and the forces which bind it together,' states the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), which is partly funding the project.
MICE requires a powerful proton beam to generate the muons and after an exhaustive search, the international team decided that the muon beam from ISIS at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory provided the most suitable environment for the experiment as it is the world's most powerful pulsed neutron source.
'The approval of MICE in the United Kingdom is a remarkable achievement by our UK colleagues,' says Alain Blondel of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and spokesperson for the international MICE collaboration. 'This approval is a real breakthrough and opens the possibility that a neutrino factory will be built in the next decade. The neutrino factory will be the tool of choice to explore the fascinating physics properties of neutrinos, those ever-so-tiny particles with which the Universe is filled. Neutrinos may elucidate the secret of how antimatter disappeared from a universe made of pure energy at the time of the Big Bang, allowing it to evolve into the rich and diverse world, made only of matter, in which we live,' added Professor Blondel.
'It is a great step towards the goal of demonstrating that ionisation cooling works, and an essential step on the way to the design of a neutrino factory, which is one of the most exciting future projects in particle physics,' concluded Yoshitaka Kuno of Osaka University, Japan, and leader of the Japanese team. 'MICE is a superb example of the benefits of truly international collaboration on advanced scientific projects.'
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