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Scientists begin unique study using detector half a mile underground

* 15 August 2003 *

Scientists begin unique study using detector half a mile underground

Scientists will this week begin a study of neutrinos using a unique detector situated half a mile underground.

The University of Sussex is one of only four UK universities to be participating in the MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) project, which studies the properties of sub-atomic particles called neutrinos.

By sending a beam of neutrinos through the ground from a site near Chicago to a huge detector over 400 miles away in northern Minnesota, physicists can study the properties of these particles.

"We're responsible for the energy calibration of the detector," says Dr Philip Harris, Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Sussex. "We designed and built a system that uses ultra-bright LEDs and 125 miles of optical fibres to help us do this."

The detector resembles an enormous loaf of sliced bread, the weight of a battleship, built half a mile underground, accessed only via a narrow 19th-century mineshaft. Huge hexagonal steel plates, 25 ft across, are interleaved with a special plastic that emits tiny flashes of light when charged particles pass through.

Of the billions of neutrinos that pass through it, only a tiny fraction will interact, creating a small shower of particles that can be detected by measuring these little flashes of light. Neutrinos come in three types - electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos, and tau neutrinos. The particles play an important role in stellar processes such as the creation of energy in stars as well as supernova explosions.

Experimental results obtained over the last five years have confirmed that neutrinos do have mass and that they switch back and forth between the three different types while travelling through space and matter.

* Notes for editors *

Press Office contacts: Peter Simmons or Jacqui Bealing, University of Sussex,
Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456,
email or

The three other UK universities involved in MINOS are University College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.


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