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Ryan Nichol

Dr Ryan Nichol

Dr Ryan Nichol

Research Fellow

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Neutrino and Cosmic Ray Studies with MINOS, ANITA and CREAM TEA

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University College London

Dates: Oct 2011-Sep 2014

Value: £322,140.79

Summary: Neutrinos are subatomic particles and are the tiniest parcel of anything that mankind has measured or thought about. My research is trying to understand a bit more about what they are and what they can tell us about some of the largest, most energetic, objects in the distant universe. Unlike their fellow subatomic particles the quarks and electrons -- which combine to together to form atoms, which in turn combine to form, well, everything -- you don’t need neutrinos to make a table. You do however need neutrinos to let the sun and all the other stars burn. In fact, you need so many neutrinos to make the sun burn that each second 100 billion neutrinos from the sun pass through every thumbnail sized part of you. But you will be pleased to know they all just sail harmless through you as if you were not there. Physicists have been building experiments to detect neutrinos for the last 60 years. One of these experiments is the MINOS experiment which creates a beam of neutrinos and fires it through the Earth from Chicago to a mine near the USA/Canada border in Minnesota. I’m one of the physicists who work on the experiment, and I now lead a team that measures the number of neutrinos that change flavour during their 735 km journey. This flavour changing is possible because as the neutrinos travel through the Earth, quantum mechanics takes over and the waves of neutrinos can effectively mix together to give you something different at the far end of the beam form what was there at the near end of the beam. By carefully measuring this mixing we hope to understand more about the nature of the neutrino, its mass and whether it played a role in explaining where all the antimatter in the universe went following the Big Bang. My other main project is ANITA which is attempting to turn an entire continent, Antarctica, into a gigantic telescope to search for extremely energetic neutrinos from the far flung corners of the universe. ANITA is essentially a very sensitive antenna,

Investigating Neutrino Oscillations with MINOS and Neutrino Astronomy with ANITA

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University College London

Dates: Oct 2006-Sep 2011

Value: £452,416.76

Summary: Neutrinos are just about the tiniest amount of anything that we can currently conceive, and my research is trying to understand what they are and what they can tell us about some of the largest, most energetic, objects in the distant universe. All we really know about neutrinos is that they are subatomic particles which are electrically neutral, have a very small mass, and come in three distinct flavours. Physicists have been building experiments to detect neutrinos for the last 50 years, and one of the most recent experiments is the MINOS experiment which fires a beam of neutrinos from Chicago to a mine in Minnesota. I lead the team that is using this experiment as gigantic balance scale to effectively weigh the neutrino flavours against each other. The ANITA project is attempting to turn an entire continent, Antarctica, into a gigantic telescope to search for extremely energetic neutrinos from the far flung corners of the universe. ANITA is essentially a very sensitive antenna, dangling from a balloon at an altitude of 37 km, listening for the distinctive radio chirps that would signify a neutrino interacting in the million cubic kilometres of ice below. I initiated the Cosmic Ray Extensive Area Mapping for Terrorism Evasion Application (CREAM TEA) project. CREAM TEA is aiming to apply the technologies developed for the MINOS and ANITA experiments to the challenge of securing the nation’s borders from the threat of nuclear terrorism. The project is assessing the feasibility of a passive imaging technique, that is analogous to x-ray imaging but uses the natural flux of cosmic ray muon particles that rain down on the surface of the Earth continuously. If this technique proves to be feasible, then in the next few years vehicle sized imaging devices could be deployed at the nation’s ports. The technique could also be used in the fields of archaeology and any other field that requires three dimensional imaging of dense objects or structures.

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