Pieces of the grandest puzzle


Mark Hartz, at his lab at TRIUMF in Vancouver, showing a prototype and parts for the photosensor the research team is building. Credit: Mark Hartz

UVic researchers advance knowledge of the universe

With powerful international partnerships, equipment and facilities, University of Victoria researchers are seeking answers to the universe’s greatest mysteries, boosted by $7.4 million in funding announced today by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

“These UVic-led projects will significantly advance new knowledge in the field of physics—inspiring and guiding students and future scientists in their quest to understand the universe and the building blocks of human existence,” says Lisa Kalynchuk, vice-president research and innovation at UVic.

The CFI Innovation Fund invests in infrastructure, across the full spectrum of research, from the most fundamental to applied through to technology development.

Neutrino shape-shifting

Led by UVic physicists Mark Hartz and Dean Karlen, the international project seeks to build a neutrino detector to study neutrino oscillations, which requires very sensitive photon detectors to study neutrino interactions that take place in about 800 tonnes of water—equivalent to about one-third of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Unlike other subatomic particles, neutrinos do not experience electromagnetic and strong forces and so they very rarely interact in particle detectors. In order to detect enough neutrinos, a very massive detector is required, and a water detector allows for particle detection while scaling to very large masses. Neutrino oscillations are a process by which one type of neutrino turns into another. This process implies that neutrinos have a mass, even though it is ultra tiny.

The $5.4 million CFI investment to UVic for the highly collaborative project (Intermediate Detector for the Hyper-Kamiokande Neutrino Oscillation Experiment), will be used to study the neutrino oscillations and how they may differ for matter and antimatter. Results from this experiment may help answer the question of why we live in a universe made out of matter rather than equal amounts of matter and antimatter.  

“We want to understand the properties of these particles in order to advance our understanding of the most basic physical laws that govern our universe,” says Hartz, a UVic adjunct professor and researcher at TRIUMF.

While advancing our most basic knowledge of the world around us is itself a worthy goal, we also recognize that many of the most important technological advancements in the past 150 years in areas such as communications, energy, medicine and computing have arisen from discoveries in fundamental science. We hope that our research can eventually have a similar direct impact on society.
Mark Hartz, a UVic adjunct professor and researcher at TRIUMF

The project partners include TRIUMF, British Columbia Institute of Technology, The University of Winnipeg, University of Regina and other research institutes in Italy, Japan, Poland and the United Kingdom.

SuperKEKB and Belle II, shown from above
Interaction region of SuperKEKB and Belle II. Credit: KEK

Big data for big mysteries

The Belle II experiment is an international particle physics experiment that is designed to search and discover new physics phenomena that cannot be explained by current models. One of the key questions is to understand why the universe is composed of matter rather than equal amounts of matter and antimatter.

The $2-million CFI contribution to UVic, will be used to construct a specialized computing facility—or the Belle II Raw Data Centre—on campus that will store and process Canada's share of the particle collision data soon after it is recorded at the KEK Laboratory in Tsukuba, Japan, says UVic physicist Randall Sobie. The Canadian facility will be one of five centres distributed around the world and be part of a critical system to ensure that the unique and valuable collision data is stored in secure locations.

“Particle physicists use high-intensity particle beams to understand the nature of the universe, the particles, the forces that make it up,” says Sobie. “New discoveries will also give scientists hints about where to look for the next, new physics.”

The Belle II experiment is located at the accelerator complex of the KEK Laboratory. The experiment includes 1,000 researchers from many countries around the world including Canada. The Canadian group includes researchers from UVic, University of British Columbia, McGill University and St. Francis Xavier University.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $518 million to support the infrastructure needs of universities and research institutions across the country. UVic is also co-partnering on two additional projects supported by the CFI.

For more details, see the CFI news release.


In this story

Keywords: research, international, funding, physics, astronomy, administrative

People: Mark Hartz, Dean Karlen, Randall Sobie

Publication: The Ring

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