Research Fellows Directory
Dr Ryan Nichol
University College London
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.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)