Physics professor Kwong Lau and assistant professor Lisa Whitehead have been studying neutrinos for most of their lives. The weak subatomic particles have no electric charge, and are notable for their ability to move through matter without notice. Though they are abundant, Whitehead said, their infrequent interactions with matter make them difficult to study.
Lau and Whitehead have worked with the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment, in a Chinese-American collaboration at a laboratory in Hong Kong. Whitehead also works on the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment, while Lau works on a plan to prevent cosmic rays from exiting a confined space.
“The results from LBNE will greatly increase our understanding of neutrinos. By understanding neutrinos, we can address some of the most fundamental questions about the universe,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead works on the LBNE with “nearly 500 people from more than 80 different institutions,” including herself and a UH graduate student.
In a UH press release, Lau said that the neutrino research will help scientists “understand the essential questions of the universe.”
“Theoretically, the Big Bang would have resulted in equal numbers of both, canceling each other out,” he said in the press release.
Fellow physics professor Ed Hungerford is working project Mu2e at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, a project under the Department of Energy. Slated to begin next year, the project aims to study muon neutrinos, a particle similar to electrons, and how they become electrons, a conversion that Hungerford says in the press release is not supposed to occur.
“We expect that matter and antimatter were produced in equal quantities at the beginning of the universe,” Whitehead said of her project.
“If that’s true, where did all the antimatter go? Why is the observable universe made almost entirely of matter? In addition to studying the beam neutrinos, the LBNE detector will also have the capability to study other topics: Does the proton decay? What could we learn by observing the neutrinos that are emitted in a core-collapse supernova?”
The grant pays for the salary of a graduate student and travel to Fermilab, along with writing software and more. This is not the first grant they have received — Whitehead received another grant in 2012 which helped her fund her work in Data Bay.