New Frontiers 6
 
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
~Arthur C. Clarke

Neutrinos...as a Matter of Fact

A Fermilab poster proclaims "Neutrinos Matter." That is precisely what scientists are looking to confirm with the neutrino experiments NuMI/MINOS and BooNE. (NuMI stands for Neutrinos at the Main Injector, and will provide the neutrinos for the MINOS experiment.)
Neutrinos, the most "almost-not-there" particles according to the standard model, are everywhere around us—we are bathed in them. Neutrinos are so almost like nothing that they pass through most matter—including people and the entire Earth—constantly, without any effect on themselves or anything else.
It is well known because of previous experiments that if neutrinos have any mass at all, it is an extremely small mass. What scientists working on NuMI, MINOS, and BooNE want to know is this: Is that mass real, but small, or is it actually zero?
To find the answer to this question, the NuMI team is shooting cascades of these particles underground from Fermilab all the way to Soudan, Minnesota. There, they will use specialized detectors to examine any changes that have occured in the state of the neutrinos.
Scientists all over the world are anticipating the results of these experiments. Fermilab's results will be compared with those of the SuperKamioka Neutrino Detection Experiment in Japan. If the results are the same, then scientists will have a better understanding of the Standard Model, and will also be able to predict changes in the universe.
According to Dr. Catherine James, the question of neutrino mass may be an important one for the future of the universe. If neutrinos do not have mass, the universe will continue to expand, just as it is now, forever. If, however, neutrinos do have mass, then things might be different. Since all matter exerts a gravitational force on everything else around it (yes, there is even a force of attraction between you and this newspaper!), the neutrinos will be gravitating towards everything, and everything towards them. Eventually, these forces may be strong enough to overcome the forces that are pushing the universe outward, and everything will come back together.
No need to worry about the universe collapsing on itself any time soon, though. Scientists predict that if that does happen, it will occur well after the sun burns itself out—100 billion years from now.

 

Quark Quest Quiz

1. What is the name of the sixth quark?

2. Who discovered the fifth quark?

3. Name two projects on which Cat James works.

4. Name Fermilab's current director.

5. Name the former Fermilab director whose sculptures adorn the Lab grounds.

6. Who began the Fermilab prairie program?

7. What does Arlene Lennox do at the Neutron Therapy Facility?

8. What makes neutron therapy an effective cancer treatment?

9. What does the Main Injector do?

10. Who funds Fermilab?