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Meet SNO+ scientist Dr Simon Peeters

Dr Simon Peeters underground operating the SNO+ detector

Dr Mark Stringer (Sussex PhD graduate) working on the detector array when the detector was being filled two years ago

The SNO+ detector

The SNO+ detector

Growing up, I was always curious about how the world works and would tinker with things as a child. I initially wanted to become an engineer. However, when looking for university places, I realised that studying physics would better satisfy my curiosity. This was indeed the right decision and I am still trying to figure out how the Universe works.

Whilst studying for my PhD, I helped develop technology for the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider and I studied its potential to find the Higgs particle.

I was also given the opportunity to join the exciting Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) experiment researching neutrino particles. In 2015, Art McDonald received the Nobel Prize for the leadership of SNO and in 2016, I shared the Breakthrough Prize of Fundamental Physics. The success of SNO led to the establishment of SNOLAB, which now hosts many other experiments. SNO+ is a new experiment, which reuses the SNO experiment.

Visiting the SNOLAB 2 km under the surface of the earth is quite an adventure. You join the miners very early in the morning and enter the industrial elevator. It travels really fast and you have to be careful with your ears due to the pressure difference. Once down, you have to walk a long way through dusty, dark and warm tunnels to get to the lab. There, you remove your mining clothes, shower and put on special clean-room clothes. You then enter a nice clean air-conditioned environment which feels like any other lab. We even have flushing toilets, quite a luxury at that depth! However, you do get tired much more quickly, due to the additional air pressure.

At SNOLAB we study neutrinos, particles that are like electrons but with no charge. They are all around us, but we don’t notice them as they hardly interact with matter. They are produced in nuclear processes, such as the fusion happening in the Sun. We go deep down underground in order to get away from other forms of cosmic radiation which could confuse our equipment. With SNO+, we can detect the neutrinos coming from the Sun – so essentially, we are taking a picture of the core of the Sun, from 2 km underground!

Now that we have completed the first phase proving how well the experiment is working, we can move on to the next phase and actually begin studying neutrinos in more detail.

Neutrinos are very common in the Universe and, as we know from SNO, very special particles. SNO+ will reveal more of their secrets and that will give us a better understanding of the Universe.

Sussex is a research-intensive university with a fantastic reputation and provides great support for research. When I joined, it had a small research group on neutrino physics, which we managed to expand significantly to one of the largest groups in the country.

The students that I work with at Sussex are highly motivated and full of curiosity. At the same time, they are very open and easy to interact with. Answering their many questions is what keeps me on my toes. In return, I try to inspire them by getting them involved in my work as much as possible.

Read about the latest results from SNO+ in their two new papers.

By: Justine Charles
Last updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2019