Neutrino Project to Propel Us to the Future

On September 20, 2017, the UK pledged 65 million euros, roughly 88 million dollars, to a collaborative research project with the United States that will involve exploring the origin and structure of our universe. This marks the first scientific collaboration of its kind between our countries. The implications of this deal promise progress for several areas of the science community, most notably for physics and technology. In fact, most of the large advancements in STEM have taken place when countries work together to utilize resources. Even though the UK’s contribution doesn’t seem like much, the significance of these two world powers cooperating promises an exponential increase of knowledge and advancements that will benefit the public. International science collaborations promise the most advancements in research and discovery, and more of them should be utilized for the progress of humanity’s quality of life on a personal and collective level.

Jo Johnson and Judith G. Garber sign the U.S.-UK Science and Technology agreement September 20, 2017 in Washington D.C. (Butterworth)

So far, the general understanding is that the project will focus on the study of neutrinos. Neutrinos are an extremely illusive subatomic particle. They are so small that literally billions pass through us every moment and next to none of them will even interact with our atoms. Scientists know little about them, but neutrinos promise understanding into the question of why the universe is made of more matter than antimatter since neutrinos have been found in both states. Or in simpler terms, how did the universe materialize during the big bang? Aside from establishing new scientific understanding, the knowledge will change the parameters from which physicists and engineers operate. By understanding the way matter forms and has formed, scientists should be able to manipulate it to their own will. This means using nature, and even space, to our benefit. The very nature of science begs the question of whether or not mankind should interfere with the process just because we can. But the prospect of the advancements that can be made outweigh the ethical debate at the moment.

Another aspect of the study aims to settle the theory of decaying protons. The current “standard model” for physics–which explains all of the fundamental particles–says it’s impossible for protons to decay. While no evidence suggests that protons decay, there are many theories that predict they do, just obscenely slowly. And this collective group of theorists hopes the study will give evidence to the theory. Professor Stefan Söldner-Rembold explains, “So far we have no evidence for proton decay, but if it does occur, the DUNE should be able to locate it within the liquid argon with millimetre precision.” Like the understanding of neutrinos, the increased knowledge of these subatomic particles has the ability to change how the world works. Imagine a world where medicine has the ability to understand the decay of cells and DNA–there’s no doubt longer life-spans and increased quality of medicine are inevitable. Health and medicine impact us all, and improving its quality is a noble task. The solution to cellular diseases like cancer can exist with the understanding of these particles. Quite simply, the impact this information will have on human life is boundless.

While the project itself has only just been initiated, some light has been shed on specific details of the experiments with the neutrinos, specifically, how this experiment is a step above all prior attempts to understand these mysterious particles. Söldner-Rembold, a particle physicist at the University of Manchester, is one of around one thousand scientists who have been chosen to design and run the project called “The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment” or DUNE. He published an article in The Conversation explaining what physicists know about neutrinos and the general basis of the experiment, saying, “DUNE will use four large tanks, each containing 10,000 tonnes of liquid argon held at a temperature of -186˚C, to detect the neutrinos with much greater precision than previous experiments that were smaller or used tanks full of water.” Notably having an extremely low temperature, Argon is likely being used to see if it’s possible to slow down neutrinos enough to get a better look at them and their behavior. Simple changes like the material used may seem insignificant, but any chemist will contest. The simple structure of an atom can make it beneficial or poisonous, so these changes are likely to aid tremendously. An intelligent collaboration like this is bound to yield promising results.

While this partnership promises copiously for the scientific communities, it will greatly benefit our countries’ international relations as well. UK Science Minister Jo Johnson states, “The UK is known as a nation of science and technical progress, with research and development being at the core of our industrial strategy. By working with our key allies, we are maintaining our position as a global leader in research for years to come.” Global alliances ensure access to resources and a general wealth of information. In a world of growing population and decreasing resources, countries need partnerships to coexist efficiently. And STEM is a uniquely inclusive aspect of international relations because science shares a common goal for the betterment of human life. Especially with all the civil unrest in today’s society, any common goal that brings unity, like that of science, should be valued and pursued. In this case, it can unify peoples on a national and international level. In collaborating with other states for the progress of science, nations create stronger ties for the betterment of their own nation and for humanity as a whole.

In the same way politics benefit from international science projects, so does the economy. Sharing knowledge leads to scientific breakthroughs that fuel technological advancements–which eventually make their way to the public. In turn, economies have the potential to skyrocket. According to Jack Grove, the United Kingdom’s involvement in the project provides the industry to build in developing technologies in precision engineering, cryogenics, and accelerator-based applications, while already providing work for fourteen UK universities and two Council-funded laboratories who provide essential expertise to the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility–with whom DUNE is collaborating to conduct their experiments. Staying ahead of these advancements and discoveries are imperative to the scientific community because being in the lead means the recognition, respect, and funding for more projects that stimulate their economy and influence. Thirty-one countries are profiting in similar ways with inclusion in the program, so the benefits to endeavors like these are monumental for masses of people. These collaborations are simply an advantage to everyone, from the national to individual levels.

The fields that will advance from DUNE research, like precision engineering and cryogenics, directly impact the public in ways that simple knowledge of neutrino behavior fails.  Precision engineering impacts everything from transportation to prosthetics–basically everything made by machines–all of which intend to make life better for mankind. And cryogenics expands across a variety of fields from physical therapy to the preservation of bio material. As a future doctor, advancements in these fields provide me with better treatment for my patients–the highest priority for an ethical doctor. In advancing these fields, science also advances humanity. Unfortunately, the program won’t be up and running until 2024. Other than the far date, the project is nothing but hopes and promises as scientists ask which questions they want answered before planning how to answer them. Even with the uncertainty of it all, the knowledge expected to come will progress our understanding of the forces that can be utilized for the improvement of human life. It’s a great time to be a scientist.

It’s exciting to see scholarly projects like these being pursued with great enthusiasm. The understanding of matter–and the progress that will result from it–guarantee a stronger foundation for humanity and the fields that contribute to its quality of life. From knowledge to real world application, this venture promises much for many. And as our country collaborates with others, the scientific community ushers in a unique peace during a time of such conflict. Hopefully, this agreement marks the beginning of many collaborations between countries.

Works Cited

Butterworth, Jon. “UK invests £65m in Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment in US.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/life-and-physics/2017/sep/24/uk-invests-65m-in-deep-underground-neutrino-experiment-in-us. 24 Sep 2017.

Grove, Jack. “UK invests £65 million in US research in landmark deal.” Times Higher Education, 20 Sept 2017. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/uk-invests-ps65-million-us-research-landmark-deal. Accessed 26 Sept 2017.

Söldner-Rembold, Stefan. “We’re building a 1,300km-long underground science experiment to study the world’s most elusive particles.” The Conversation, 25 Sept. 2017, https://theconversation.com/were-building-a-1-300km-long-underground-science-experiment-to-study-the-worlds-most-elusive-particles. Accessed 26 Sept 2017.

“UK pledges £65 million to the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.” University College London. 21 September 2017. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0917/210918-DUNE. Accessed 26 September 20

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Lauren Bartlett lives in Colorado Springs with her two cats, Belle and Sasha, and is a self-proclaimed expert on Mexican food. She is studying to become a doctor and paints with water media in what little free time is available.

Photo By: SDPB Radio http://listen.sdpb.org/post/high-hopes-dune-sanford-lab