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Scientists are closing in on why the universe exists

by News Desk
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54:00hunting ghost particles

Particle astrophysicist Benjamin Tam hopes his work helps understand the question. very big one.

“The big question we’re trying to answer with this study is how the universe formed,” said Tam, who has a PhD from Queen’s University.

“What is the origin of the universe?”

To answer that question, he and dozens of fellow scientists and engineers conducted a multimillion-dollar experiment two kilometers below the surface of the Canadian Shield in a repurposed mine near Sudbury, Ontario. I’m here.

Ten thousand photosensitive cameras transmit data to scientists watching for evidence of neutrinos colliding with other particles. (Tom Howell/CBC)

of Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB) is already famous for previous experiments that revealed how neutrinos “oscillate” between different versions as they travel here from the Sun.

A neutrino can never have zero mass. The experiment’s lead scientist, Arthur MacDonald, won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for the discovery.

Neutrinos are commonly known as “ghost particles”. There are trillions of them emanating from the sun every second. They are imperceptible to humans unless they use highly specialized detection technology to alert them to their presence.

Neutrinos were first hypothesized in the early 20th century to explain why certain important physical equations seem to be consistently wrong answers. In 1956 their existence was proven.

A digital image of a blue transparent sphere with lines all over it.
The neutrino detector is the heart of the SNO+ experiment. An acrylic sphere containing a ‘scintillator’ liquid is suspended within a larger water-filled sphere studded with 10,000 photosensitive cameras. (Provided by SNOLOAB)

Tam and his fellow researchers are now closing in on the biggest remaining mystery about these tiny particles.

No one knows what happens when two neutrinos collide. If they are shown to annihilate each other on occasion, scientists can conclude that the neutrino acts as its own ‘antiparticle’.

Such a conclusion would explain how the imbalance between matter and antimatter arose, revealing the current existence of all matter in the universe.

It also provides some reassurance for anyone looking to explain the physical world using a model that doesn’t mean none of us should be here.

Screen grab of two scientists in white helmets, clear goggles, and blue safety suits holding microphones, standing on either side of the CBC producer. All three are laughing.
IDEAS producer Tom Howell (center) joins research scientists Erica Caden (left) and Benjamin Tam in a video call from their underground lab. (Screengrab: Nicola Luksic)

Guest this time (in order of appearance):

Benjamin Tam PhD student in particle astrophysics at Queen’s University.

Eve Vavagiakis He is a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Astronomy and Astrophysics in the Department of Physics, Cornell University. she is a children’s book author I am a neutrino: a small particle in the big universe.

Blair Flynn Senior Education and Outreach Officer at . snorab.

Erica Cayden I am a researcher at SNOLAB. Among her duties, she is the detector manager for her SNO+ and is responsible for keeping things running day to day.

*This episode was produced by Nicola Luxic and Tom Howell. Part of an ongoing series, ideas from the trenchessome stories are given below.

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