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Big future for small particle

By Cheng Yingqi(China Daily)Updated: 2015-12-28

Big future for small particle

The Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment was conducted in this tunnel, shown during construction in 2011. Xinhua

Worldwide attention

The particle has been making headlines across the world recently. In October, the Nobel Prize in Physics was jointly awarded to Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo and Arthur B. McDonald of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, for their discovery of neutrino oscillations that confirm neutrinos have mass. It was the fourth time neutrino-related research had won a Nobel Prize.

In November, representatives of five different neutrino experiments accepted the $3 million award for the Fundamental Physics Breakthrough Prize, funded by a number of high-tech entrepreneurs, such as Jack Ma of Alibaba, the Chinese Internet giant, and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Scientists hope that neutrino research will capture the public imagination in the same way the discovery of the Higgs boson did three years ago. Also known as the "God particle", the Higgs boson helps to explain why other elementary particles have mass. Its discovery by the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, in July 2012 was regarded as the most significant scientific breakthrough in decades.

A promising field

Now, the neutrino is believed to be the most promising field for discoveries of so-called novel particles, such as the Higgs boson. "After the Higgs boson, exploration of any unknown particles will require new research facilities. As the LHC is hitting the limits of its energy level, we are pinning our hope on neutrino research, and several new facilities are being developed," Wang said.

At present, there are 18 neutrino facilities in operation worldwide - in the United States, Japan, Europe, Canada, South Korea and China - many of which have ambitious plans for upgrades.

For example, the Kamioka Neutrino Observatory in Japan - which has produced two sets of Nobel-Prize-winning research since it was completed in 1983 - had its capacity expanded tenfold in the 1990s, which led to its new designation as the Super-Kamioka. A further expansion is being planned to raise the power level by a factor of 20.

The news that European countries and CERN have decided not to carry out large neutrino oscillation experiments anymore over the next couple of decades so they can focus fully on CERN's collider program has also provided a boost for China's research ambitions.

"Since that announcement, the European neutrino community has explored the global opportunities to understand which other ongoing efforts could be joined," wrote Gioacchino Ranucci of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Italy, who is deputy spokesperson for the JUNO experiment, in an e-mail exchange with China Daily.