UCL Experimental Particle Physics Consolidated Grant (2015-2019)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Experimental particle physics studies extremely small sizes, or equivalently extremely high energies. We are seeking to understand the underlying nature of the physical universe in terms of fundamental forces and particles to answer the simple question: how did our universe evolve to allow life.

Experiments capable of reaching these extremes of energy & size are very technically demanding. The challenges include devising precision detectors which can operate in hostile environments, particle accelerators which can collide beams at very high energies, super-sensitive detectors capable of identifying very rare decays, high-speed electronics which can read out millions of pieces of information per second & software which can analyse petabytes of data in a distributed fashion. Particle physics thereby stimulates a variety of important technological developments.

This is a "consolidated grant", underpinning the base of highly skilled research & technical staff which allows UCL to lead projects at the very highest levels. It provides the support that allows the group to effectively train PhD students & young post-doctoral researchers. The science this grant will support includes:

- Understanding the nature of the Higgs boson and the mechanism that gives particles mass.
- Understanding why we live in a universe that is dominated by matter with only a tiny anti-matter component, in contrast to the conditions immediately following the Big Bang. We will study in detail the properties of the neutrino, which is a stable, uncharged, almost massless particle released in radioactive beta decays. The neutrino is being studied with the MINOS experiment. UCL is also completing the construction of the SuperNEMO experiment, which will search for the incredibly rare process whereby two simultaneous beta-decays occur inside the nucleus. Examining such decays will yield fundamental insights into the nature of the neutrino.
- Searching for phenomena at extremely high energies, well beyond the reach of man-made accelerators like the LHC. We are searching for the interactions of ultra-high energy neutrinos in the Antarctic ice using the ANITA experiment & we will search for the exceedingly rare process whereby a muon (a heavier version of the electron) spontaneously converts into an electron and measure very precisely the interaction of a muon with a magnetic field to establish whether there are new types of interaction or if the muon has any sub-structure.
- Developing new accelerator and detector technologies for future experiments. We need to build higher energy colliders, and giant detectors able to detect neutrino beams fired over large distances, as well as 10-times larger underground detectors to continue the search for rare processes. These crucial science goals require the realisation of new detectors with unprecedented performance and which can be scaled-up effectively and affordably.
- Sharing the results of our work with other scientists and industry. Our accelerator and radiation measurement expertise can be applied to the fields of nuclear medicine and security. We also cooperate with instrument manufacturers in order to develop better products for our own research and for other scientific and industrial users.

Some of this work is funded on other grants but is underpinned by the technical expertise that is supported by this consolidated grant. Continuity & support for the technical base in the UCL High Energy Physics Group is vital to progress the science & the benefits that it brings.

Planned Impact

Particle physicists undertake basic research at the frontier of knowledge. Our audience consists not only of fellow physicists but scientists and non-scientists alike who share a curiosity for the results of our research.

We know, for example from studies of university applications, that particle physics is one of the most frequently cited motivations for school pupils to study physics at A-level and beyond. Our research, and in particular the presentation of our research to public audiences, is therefore a crucial factor in encouraging young people to study the physical sciences at a time when the UK economy needs many more science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates. The UCL group reaches out to public audiences through highly effective work in schools and science fairs and also in national print, broadcast media and best-selling books.

The instruments required to perform experiments in high-energy physics have historically and continue to generate significant innovation that has wider impact. Our research is being applied in two area:

* the construction and optimisation of the UK's first proton beam facilities for cancer therapy that will treat their first patients in 2018. We are assisting in the procurement and construction of the accelerator itself and also in providing a diagnostic system that will precisely and quickly measure the proton beam energy.

* very sensitive radiation detectors to detect trace amounts of radioactive elements. We are working with several companies developing improved HPGe gamma-ray detector systems and higher quality and cheaper radon detectors.

UCL particle physicists are committed to disseminating the results of their research as widely and effectively as possible, ensuring that anyone with an interest in our work - be it professional interest or simply personal curiosity - has the chance to learn more about what we do.