June 16, 2011 LSU Department of Physics Professors Thomas Kutter and Martin Tzanov, and Professor Emeritus William Metcalf, along with graduate and undergraduate students, have been working for several years on an experiment in Japan called T2K, or Tokai to Kamioka Long Baseline Neutrino Oscillation Experiment, which studies the most elusive of fundamental subatomic particles -- the neutrino. The team announced they have an indication of a new type of neutrino transformation or oscillation from a muon neutrino to an electron neutrino.
In the T2K experiment in Japan, a beam of muon neutrinos -- one of the three types of neutrinos, which also include the electron and tau -- was produced in the Japan Proton
Accelerator Research Complex, or J-PARC, located in Tokai village, Ibaraki prefecture, on the east coast of Japan. The beam was aimed at the gigantic Super-Kamiokande underground detector in Kamioka, near the west coast of Japan, 295 km, or 185 miles away from Tokai. An analysis of the detected neutrino-induced events in the Super-Kamiokande detector indicated that a small number of muon neutrinos traveling from Tokai to Kamioka transformed themselves into electron neutrinos.
As part of the experiment, high energy protons were directed onto a carbon target, where their collisions produced charged particles called pions, which travelled through a helium-filled volume where they decayed to produce a beam of the elusive neutrinos. These neutrinos then flew about 200 meters through Earth to a sophisticated detector system capable of making detailed measurements of their energy, direction and type.
"It took the international collaboration about ten years to realize the project and bring it from first idea to first results," said Kutter, leader of the T2K project at LSU. "The entire LSU team is honored to be part of the collaboration and proud to contribute to the experiment. We expect many more results in the near future and look forward to the new research opportunities which are likely to arise from the tantalizing indication of this new neutrino oscillation."
LSU physicists have been part of a number of measurements over the last decade, which include Super Kamiokande, SNO, KamLAND that have shown that neutrinos possess the strange property of neutrino oscillations -- one flavor of neutrino can transform into another as it travels through space. This is significant because neutrinos were first predicted theoretically in 1930, first actually detected in 1956 and for 50 years were assumed to have zero mass. But neutrino oscillations require mass.
With mysterious linkage between the three types, neutrinos challenge the understanding of the fundamental forces and basic constituents of matter. They may be related to the mystery of why there is more matter than anti-matter in the universe, and are the focus of intense study worldwide.
Precision measurements of neutrino oscillations can be made using artificial neutrino beams. This was pioneered in Japan by the K2K neutrino experiment in which neutrinos were produced at the KEK accelerator laboratory near Tokyo and were detected using the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector, a 50,000 ton tank of ultra-pure water located more than half a mile underground in a laboratory 183 miles away near Toyama.
T2K is a more powerful and sophisticated version of the K2K experiment, with a more intense neutrino beam derived from the newly-built main ring synchrotron at the J-PARC accelerator laboratory. The beam was built by physicists from KEK in cooperation with other Japanese institutions and with assistance from American, Canadian, UK and French T2K institutes. The beam is aimed once again at Super-Kamiokande, which has been upgraded for this experiment with new electronics and software.
Before the neutrinos leave the J-PARC facility, their properties are determined by a sophisticated "near" detector, partly based on a huge magnet donated from the CERN accelerator laboratory in Geneva. The CERN magnet was earlier used for the UA1 experiment, which won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the W and Z bosons which are the basis of neutrino interactions. The LSU team was responsible for building major components of the "near" detector, which provided an important ingredient to the oscillation analysis.
During the next several years, the search will be improved, with the hope that the three-mode oscillation will allow a comparison of the oscillations of neutrinos and anti-neutrinos, probing the asymmetry between matter and anti-matter in the universe.
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- The TK Collaboration. Indication of Electron Neutrino Appearance from an Accelerator-produced O-axis Muon Neutrino Beam. Physical Review Letters, 2011; (submitted)
- The T2K Collaboration. The T2K Experiment. arXiv.org, 2011; [link]
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