Experimental Particle Physics Consolidated Grant 2019

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Physics


Fundamental physics strives to answer the big questions: what is our Universe made of; how did it evolve; what forces govern it and how do they shape the phenomena we observe? In particle physics we build experiments to examine the smallest constituents of the universe, fundamental particles, so that we can address these questions with our findings.

Our knowledge of how fundamental particles behave is encapsulated in a theory called the Standard Model. It has enormous predictive power and provides a simple framework to understand the nature of the universe, however, we also know the theory is incomplete. With experiments at the highest energies, we test predictions to determine the limits of our understanding and the validity of our theory. With dedicated precision experiments we probe predictions at incredible levels of accuracy. The faintest trace of any disagreement between theory and data could indicate a discovery of new types of physics, and a step forward in understanding the nature of the Universe.

One of the most pressing questions we have concerns why matter should dominate so much over anti-matter in the Universe. Matter and anti-matter should have been created in equal quantities in the early Universe, but very little anti-matter occurs naturally now. The difference in behaviour between matter and anti-matter that caused this is a mystery, and a defining feature of our universe. Without this difference galaxies and planets could not form, and life could not exist. We think neutrinos may hold the key to understanding why it happened. Neutrinos, discovered almost a century ago, are the most evanescent of particles. They have no charge, barely interact with matter and were long thought to have no mass at all (like a photon). To detect them we have had to build enormous but very sensitive detectors. Our experiments show that neutrinos have a very small mass; it is this that might cause the preponderance of matter over anti-matter. An important part of our research is to make detailed measurements of neutrinos, to understand their masses and if they are responsible for our matter-dominated universe.

The discovery of the Higgs particle marks a new era in our understanding. It confirms the existence of a fundamentally new entity that pervades all of nature and gives mass to elementary particles. Without the Higgs electrons could not bind to protons to make hydrogen atoms, and without atoms our universe would be a very different, lifeless place. In our experiments, we study the Higgs to measure and understand its behaviour. We are motivated by the fascinating possibility that the Higgs may help us understand the dark side of the universe; the mysterious dark matter. It has long been known that there are not enough stars visible in galaxies to explain the speed at which stars rotate around them. Our best explanation is that galaxies also contain massive, invisible (dark) matter which supplies the extra gravitational glue necessary to keep stars in their orbits. Calculations suggest this dark matter forms five times as much of the universe as the matter we see. The Higgs could interact with dark matter, giving us a way to illuminate the dark sector of the universe for the first time.

Astrophysical observations also suggest that the Universe's expansion is accelerating, as if there is pressure created by space itself. How this happens is not yet understood, although it has been suggested that an unknown (dark) energy permeating the universe could cause the acceleration. Dark energy, together with dark matter, form 95% of the universe. In other words, we have only studied and understood 5% of the cosmos in our existing experiments. It is imperative that we understand more, and we have joined new experiments to investigate dark energy, discover new physics, and ultimately uncover the nature of the Universe.

Planned Impact

We split our impact into three categories: 1) technology; 2) skills development; 3) industry.

1) Impact through Technology. The goal is advancement of society through technology developed for particle physics.
The group has created a pipeline of ideas that it plans to deliver on the timescale of the next CG. These include:

a) We have signed a contract with Proton Partners International to provide beam instrumentation for the on-campus proton therapy centre by 2020. This work is dedicated to improving outcomes for patients through a detailed understanding and measurement of energy deposition in a pre-treatment phase. In addition, we are developing technology to monitor radiation levels close to the beam, in particular stray neutron background that have deleterious effects on the patient. As well as our sensor based developments which will be used commercially as a national health provision we are also using our modelling and imaging software for developing proton computed tomography, work that was funded by the Wellcome trust and the NHS.

b) We are developing antineutrino detectors for civil nuclear safeguards. Following a successful field test at the Wylfa nuclear reactor site, the project is currently undergoing a phase of upgrades to the sensors, electronics in conjunction with industry. We have secured funding via Innovate-UK (£1M) in partnership with JCS Nuclear Solutions Ltd., and an RSE Fellowship through this initiative. We currently have partnership agreement with National Nuclear Labs Ltd, Sellafield to develop a realistic model of the anti-neutrino production from a reactor-core. This work has been facilitated and monitored via the UK support program to the IAEA and the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

c) We are developing components for the quantum and atom interferometry industry. We have already received support from AWE, for applications towards gravity scanning. We are developing these with M2 Lasers Ltd, Glasgow, in the application of activ vibration compensation at the sub-hertz level.

d) We were the first to pioneer full-sized n+p sensors, via the design and development for the LHCb VELO project; n+p sensors are now offered by all the major sensor manufacturers - Hamamatsu Photonics, CNM, Micron, etc. - as standard to research, healthcare and aerospace sectors. All sensors for the existing VELO detectors were provided by Micron Semiconductors (the only UK sensors in the LHC vertex detectors), and the technology developed is now offered by them as a standard product line.

2) Impact through the skills development pipeline. Our goal is the recruitment, training and career management of our young researchers and apprentices. We directly address the STEM skills shortage in industry for highly trained individuals at doctoral level, with expertise in high-tech hardware, firmware and software skills. The group offers the opportunity for young researchers to gain experience in international projects, and allows them to take leadership and responsibility. This results in transfer of trained people into industry.

3) Industrial and economic impact. Our goal is the general engagement of UK industry in particle physics both for knowledge transfer and generation of inward investment. In 2017 the university opened Sensor City a University Enterprise Zone underwritten by BEIS and LEP. This was based on a proposal by the particle physics group. Sensor City provides an interface between local and national industry, both SME and large scale, and the knowledge quarter based around the university. This is designed to be an engine for entrepreneurial activity in the UK. Sensor City does not provide capacity for proof of concept or direct transfer of STFC technology to industry. We are proposing to UKRI the creation of a national sensor "proof of concept" centre which will be a European hub for the development of the detectors that industry needs.



Themistocles Bowcock (Principal Investigator)
Gianluigi Casse (Co-Investigator)
Neil Kevin McCauley (Co-Investigator)
Martin Hermann Gorbahn (Co-Investigator)
David Hutchcroft (Co-Investigator)
Constantinos (Costas) Andreopoulos (Co-Investigator) orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2020-8215
Barry Thomas King (Co-Investigator)
Max Klein (Co-Investigator)
Yanyan Gao (Co-Investigator)
Nikolaos Rompotis (Co-Investigator)
Joachim Rose (Co-Investigator)
Monica D'Onofrio (Co-Investigator)
Joost Vossebeld (Co-Investigator)
Jonathon P Coleman (Co-Investigator)
Uta Klein (Co-Investigator)
Sergey Burdin (Co-Investigator)
Thomas Teubner (Co-Investigator)
Tara Shears (Co-Investigator) orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2653-1366
Konstantinos Mavrokoridis (Co-Investigator)
Andrew Mehta (Co-Investigator)
Christos Touramanis (Co-Investigator)
Jan Kretzschmar (Co-Investigator)
Laura Joanne Harkness-Brennan (Co-Investigator)
Timothy Greenshaw (Co-Investigator)
Timothy John Jones (Researcher Co-Investigator)
Paul John Dervan (Researcher Co-Investigator)
Jon Taylor (Researcher Co-Investigator) orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8574-8322
ILYA TSURIN (Researcher Co-Investigator)
Francesco Dettori (Researcher Co-Investigator) orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0256-8663
Carl Bryan Gwilliam (Researcher Co-Investigator)
Helen Sarah Hayward (Researcher Co-Investigator)
David John Payne (Researcher Co-Investigator)
Karol Hennessy (Researcher Co-Investigator) orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1529-8087
Eva Vilella Figueras (Researcher Co-Investigator) orcid http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7865-2856
Kurt Rinnert (Researcher Co-Investigator)


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