LSU researchers recently played a role in shooting large beams of particles nearly 200 miles across Japan.
The result, they hope, will resolve questions about mysterious neutrino particles and help unlock the secrets of how the universe is shaped.
The international T2K project is named after the seemingly invisible neutrino beams traveling from a proton accelerator in the Tokai village to a massive detector in Kamioka, which is about 185 miles away on Japan’s western coast.
The result, thus far, is the June announcement that researchers believe a few neutrinos transform during the trip — an energy event that would prove they contain mass.
That could explain the theorized big-bang creation of the universe.
“It may explain why the universe is made out of matter and not antimatter,” said LSU physicist Thomas Kutter. That is, why matter vastly outnumbers antimatter and why they do not always cancel each other out.
“One of the most fundamental questions in the universe is why are we here in this form?” Kutter said.
Only until recently, neutrinos were believed to have zero mass.
Neutrinos are small particles that travel through matter virtually unaffected near the speed of light. As such, they are very difficult to detect and study.
“It’s like the Earth doesn’t exist for them,” Kutter said of neutrinos. “Throughout your life, neutrinos will pass through your body.”
Out of the three “flavors” of neutrinos, previous studies have detected only transformations from muon neutrinos to tau neutrinos.
But the T2K experiments seem to indicate muon to electron neutrino transformations, or oscillations, Kutter said.
It might have been a fluke to show two or three such events, he said, but the T2K study shows at least six such oscillations, he said.
Kutter said the result represents a “major indication,” but more evidence is needed before it can be dubbed a “major discovery.”
“Six events is, obviously, not a whole lot,” he said.
The 185-mile trip the beam takes is necessary to observe the transformations, he said,
The T2K results also appear consistent with the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search, or MINOS, experiment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s reports that were also announced in June, he said.
In the T2K experiment, beams of muon neutrinos were produced in the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex, or J-PARC on the east coast of Japan. The beams were aimed at the gigantic Super-Kamiokande underground detector.
LSU physicists Kutter, Martin Tzanov and William Metcalf, along with LSU student teams, played critical roles in developing the sophisticated “near” detector at J-PARC.
The near detector essentially produced the “before” data to compare to the “after” data collected from the underground detector, Kutter said.
The T2K project began in 2001 with data analysis being more recently done by the LSU team and many others.
But Kutter said the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan have stalled the work.
With realignment work being done, Kutter said, the goal is to start back up again in December and then work to firm up and prove the results.