Jack’s spark of enthusiasm to aid top physics experiment

JRA student Jack Miller refines apparatus used in his physics experiment

Physics student Jack Miller’s work in the laboratory will help scientists to avoid catastrophic breakdowns in apparatus used in one of the UK’s most important physics experiments.

Jack was awarded a Junior Research Associate bursary to work on the Sussex-led neutron Electric Dipole Moment (nEDM) experiment, which looks at a small asymmetry in the structure of the neutron that is strongly related to the question of why the Big Bang created more matter than anti-matter in the Universe.

It is one of only three experiments in the UK to have been rated "high priority" in a Government funding review.

Jack’s project, titled High Voltage Pre-Breakdown Light Emission in the Cryo-nEDM experiment, which is collaboratively run between the Universities of Sussex, Oxford and the Rutherford Apple Laboratory.

High voltage breakdown is the formation of large sparks in the experimental apparatus, which cause enormous damage. Jack’s project involved investigating tiny flashes of light which occur before breakdown, allowing for the eventual implementation of a warning system in the main experiment to avoid these catastrophic breakdowns.

Jack says: “I chose to do this project because it was hands-on involvement – both putting together and then operating the experiment.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my JRA experience, and gained a lot of valuable knowledge from it, especially the lab skills I learned, such as soldering, operating high-voltage equipment, and designing electronic circuits, which required far more technical ability than on my degree course and which will help me in my final-year project.

“And I've gained an insight into how an active scientific experiment is run and the driving forces behind it. This will be of great use if I choose a career in academia, which  I'm strongly considering following my experience as a JRA.

Notes for Editors

The nEDM experiment, led by Professor Phillip Harris in the department of physics at the University of Sussex, was ranked by the Science and Technology Facilities Council as being one of the UK's three top-priority particle-physics experiments, uses magnetic resonance to measure the dependence upon the applied electric field of the precession frequency of stored ultracold neutrons. 

This is one of the most precise measurements that it is possible to make: If the charge separation to which we are sensitive could be expanded to the size of a football, then a football would correspondingly expand to the size of the visible Universe. So far, this experiment has probably disproved more theories than any other experiment in the history of physics.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email: press@sussex.ac.uk

Last updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2012