Scientists make step towards unlocking secrets of the universe

Academics from a university in Yorkshire have taken a major step towards understanding the universe in groundbreaking research.

Academics from a university in Yorkshire have taken a major step towards understanding the universe in groundbreaking research. Photo credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

A team of physicists from the University of Sheffield have produced innovative research to aid the understanding of why the universe is made of mostly matter and not antimatter, by studying the difference between the two.

Findings from the project indicate a difference between the fundamental behaviour of elusive elementary particles, neutrinos, and of antineutrinos – their antimatter counterparts.

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Professor Lee Thompson, from the University of Sheffield’s department of physics and astronomy, said the research brings together particle physics and cosmology.

ProfessorLee Thompson, from the University of Sheffields department of physics and astronomy, said the researchbrings together particle physics and cosmology. Photo credit: other

"By studying neutrinos, the most elusive of the elementary particles, we learn something about the largest of astrophysical topics, the universe itself,” he said.

The work is a large international collaboration of more than 350 scientists including the team from Sheffield.

As part of the research a special detector was used to observe neutrinos and antineutrinos which were generated 295 kilometres away at the Japanese Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC).

As they travel through the Earth, these particles oscillate between different physical properties known as flavours.

The research found a mismatch in the way neutrinos and antineutrinos oscillate by recording the numbers that reached the detector with a flavour different from the one they had been created with.

This difference is due to a so-called asymmetry in their physical properties.

The researchers say the project will help us understand the origin of the current prevalence of matter over antimatter in the universe.

Professor Thompson said: “Astronomers find that the matter in the universe is overwhelmingly just that: matter, with positively charged atomic nuclei surrounded by negative electrons.

“When particle physicists make new particles in accelerators, they always find that they produce particle-antiparticle pairs: for every negative electron, a positively charged positron.

"So why isn't the universe 50 per cent antimatter? This is a long-standing problem in cosmology – what happened to the antimatter?"

Professor Thompson is working alongside Dr Susan Cartwright and Dr Matthew Malek from the University of Sheffield’s department of physics and astronomy.

The measurements found during the experiment strengthen previous observations and pave the way towards future discoveries.

A new generation of experiments under construction, involving a team of particle physicists at Sheffield, might provide an answer to the problem of the missing antimatter in the next 10 years.

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