Particle Physics Consolidated Grant from the University of Sheffield: Energy Frontier, Neutrinos, Dark Matter

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


"What is the Universe made of, and why?" Sheffield's HEP programme aims to address this fundamental question. There are two problems here: about 5/6 of the matter in the Universe seems to be an as yet undiscovered particle (dark matter), and the remaining 1/6 is all matter - not the 50:50 matter-antimatter mix we make in laboratories.
We search for the dark matter particle in two ways: at the energy frontier, by seeking to detect new particles created by the high-energy proton-proton collisions of the LHC at CERN, and in direct searches, attempting to observe these particles in the Galaxy itself. The theory of supersymmetry, which predicts a whole set of particles related to, but more massive than, the known particles of the Standard Model (SM), offers a candidate dark matter particle. If supersymmetric particles can be made at the LHC, they should be detected in ATLAS. Our programme searches specifically for new Higgs bosons and for particles related to the SM quarks and gluons. At ATLAS, we also study SM processes involving the force carriers of the weak interaction, probing our understanding of the SM. Looking to the future, we are contributing essential work to the upgrade of the ATLAS experiment required to take full advantage of higher event rates in future running of the LHC.
Most of the matter in our Galaxy is dark matter. In the LZ experiment, we search for evidence of dark matter colliding with Xe atoms in the experiment and causing them to recoil. This experiment will be the most sensitive dark matter detector ever constructed. Understanding possible background - non-dark-matter - events is critical to this, and we have world leading expertise in this field. In addition, we are leading the development of directional dark matter detectors, which will be vital in proving that any candidate signal really does come from the Galaxy and not the Earth. We are also the only UK group involved in the search for axions: another possible type of dark matter particle which cannot be detected at the LHC or in standard dark matter experiments.
Why is the matter in the Universe all matter, not antimatter? The answer to this question must lie in subtle differences between particles and antiparticles, an effect called CP violation. The CP violating effects so far observed are not nearly large enough to create the Universe we see. The most likely source for more CP violation is in the interactions of neutrinos. A key observation is that neutrinos have mass, and that different types of neutrinos can interchange their identities in flight. The T2K experiment has made measurements of this, and has detected tantalising hints of CP violation. We plan to build on this work, both in running experiments (T2K and SBND) and in designing the next generation of neutrino experiments which will have much greater sensitivity. We have developed tools to assist the neutrino community in comparing results and improving our understanding of how neutrinos interact. Our access to Boulby Mine provides an invaluable low-background laboratory for testing materials and detector prototypes.
Last but not least, we seek to apply HEP technology to industry and to solving global problems. We are using techniques developed for ATLAS to contribute to the development of robotics and to deal with highly radioactive environments such as Chernobyl. We are designing muon detectors to search for nuclear contraband and monitor volcanoes. Our signal processing techniques are being applied to improving medical imaging for heart patients. Our expertise in water Cherenkov neutrino detection is being exploited in an experiment designed to monitor compliance with nuclear non-proliferation treaties. All of this work builds on our STFC core programme to benefit the wider world.

Planned Impact

We maintain a wide-ranging R&D programme, based on our STFC core activities, which has impacts in many areas.

Industry benefits from our work. Some of our R&D is directly focused on meeting the needs of UK industry, for example our work on robotics, radiation monitoring, muon tomography, and signal processing applied to medical and engineering applications. Industry benefits through the development of new products, e.g. specialist welding rigs, robotic inspection devices, re-manufacturing techniques for aerospace components, and plastic scintillator, which are commercially viable. Examples of companies benefiting from our work include Shadow Robot, Rolls-Royce Aerospace, LabLogic Systems, Creavo Medical Technologies and Durridge (UK) Ltd. These benefits have arisen directly from our core STFC work on ATLAS, neutrino physics, dark matter direct detection, and gravitational waves. We also assist UK industry in winning contracts for particle physics engineering projects, such as the anode plane assembly frames for SBND and ProtoDUNE.

Developing nations will benefit from our work. We plan to apply our muon tomography work to monitoring active volcanoes, providing an early warning system which can save lives.

Global security benefits from our work. The WATCHMAN project aims to use technology from neutrino physics to monitor reactor activity, providing a way to check compliance with nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Our muon tomography work has been applied to scanning cargo containers for clandestine nuclear materials. We are working with industry to produce robotic devices that can explore high-radiation environments, helping to develop safe ways to decommission nuclear facilities.

The environment benefits from our work. We have studied the use of muon tomography to monitor underground carbon dioxide repositories for carbon capture and storage. Our signal processing work has applications in motor control, improving the efficiency of electric motors and thereby offering significant power savings.

Public health will benefit from our work. We are applying signal processing techniques to improve the performance of magnetic heart monitors used to triage cardiac patients. We are also investigating the application of our liquid argon and large area photosensor development work to medical imaging, potentially improving the performance of diagnostic equipment such as PET scanners.

The public understanding of science benefits from our work. Over the past three years, our programme of public and schools lectures, demonstrations and interactive exhibits has reached at least 5000 people (including 3000 schoolchildren). We give lectures at teachers' professional development schools and target schools with low rates of progress to higher education. We are committed to publicising the UK's role in cutting-edge STFC science to the widest possible audience.


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Aaboud M (2019) ATLAS Collaboration in Nuclear Physics A

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Aaboud M (2019) Search for doubly charged scalar bosons decaying into same-sign boson pairs with the ATLAS detector. in The European physical journal. C, Particles and fields

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Aaboud M (2019) Modelling radiation damage to pixel sensors in the ATLAS detector in Journal of Instrumentation