Lancaster University

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£3.8m grant for particle physics

01/31/2007 12:22:06

A particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva where the ATLAS experiment is based
A particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva where the ATLAS experiment is based

Lancaster University’s particle physics group has been awarded £3.8m for world class research to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The five year grant will fund work on three high-profile collaborative experiments involving particle accelerators in the US, Japan and Europe. A section of one of the experiments – a 6 ton electromagnetic calorimeter - will even be built in Lancaster and shipped out to Japan in 2009.

The Head of the Physics Department Prof Peter Ratoff said: “It’s a vote of confidence in a well-established particle physics group here at Lancaster which is itself part of a very strong international research community.”

Lancaster is one of only six universities in the UK involved in the prestigious Tokai To Kamioka (T2K) project in Japan. The others are Imperial College, Queen Mary College, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Daresbury, and the universities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Warwick.

The T2K experiment, due to start in 2009, will direct an artificial neutrino beam underground for 295km towards a 50kton water Cherenkov detector which will measure neutrino oscillation – where neutrinos of one type turn into one of the other two types of neutrino.

Prof Ratoff said: “If matter and antimatter were created equally at the time of the Big Bang, why is there so much more matter in the universe? Certain subtle properties of neutrinos could account for this. Furthermore, if we can measure the mass of the three types of neutrino, then their contribution to the overall mass of the universe could be determined, enabling us to answer questions about the ultimate fate of the universe.”

The particle physics group at Lancaster are also founder members of the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva, one of the largest collaborative efforts ever attempted in the physical sciences with more than 1800 physicists from 35 countries.

Collisions of protons accelerated in the 27km ring of the Large Hadron Collider will be observed by ATLAS which will search for subatomic clues to reveal the fundamental nature of matter and the universe.

Lancaster is also involved in the DZERO experiment at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in the USA, where our physicists have played a leading role in understanding some of the fundamental properties of particles containing ‘beauty’ quarks.

The University has recently agreed to fund the appointment of another particle physicist academic member of staff in the Department, which was rated 5* in the most recent RAE.