School of Physics and Astronomy

SPA Neutrino Physicists Star in Royal Society Summer Exhibition

A virtual tour of the inside of a neutrino detector will be a major attraction at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which runs from 2 to 8 July.

28 June 2018

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The virtual reality tour has been developed by Ben Richards of the Particle Physics Research Group in the SPA. It will feature as part of an exhibit called “Ghosts in the universe” which will explain what we know about neutrinos and how we are trying to find out more. The exhibit includes contributions from a number of UK universities.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to don a virtual reality headset and find themselves inside the SuperKamiokande neutrino detector, a high-tech underground cavern filled with 50 000 tonnes of ultra-pure water, its walls peppered with some 13 000 photomultiplier tubes. These devices are able to detect brief flashes of light produced inside the darkened detector chamber. The flashes they are looking for come from interactions between the water and neutrinos — ghostly particles that hardly ever interact with the atoms of “normal” matter. The neutrinos are produced by a variety of sources, including the Sun and distant supernovae. Hundreds of thousands of them pass through the Earth — indeed through each one of us — every second, having no impact on either it or us. But every so often a neutrino will interact with the water in the detector and when it does it produces a flash of light known as Cherenkov radiation, which the photomultiplier tubes detect.

Detecting these rare events can help us to understand more about the properties of neutrinos, how stars — and supernovae — work, and why there is more matter than antimatter in the Universe.