U of G Scientists Lead Construction of New Gamma-Ray Detector

August 17, 2011 - News Release

Even with its eagle eyes, the mythical griffin would have had trouble seeing right into an atom. Now its multimillion-dollar namesake being built by a University of Guelph-led team promises to help scientists solve puzzles about basic forces of nature and where matter came from.

Physics professor Carl Svensson will lead a Canadian team building this one-of-a-kind $8.8-million scientific instrument, supported by a New Initiative Fund award from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Over the next four years, the GRIFFIN (Gamma Ray Infrastructure for Fundamental Investigations of Nuclei) project will see construction of a giant gamma-ray detector at TRIUMF, a world-leading subatomic physics laboratory in Vancouver.

The GRIFFIN scientific team involves researchers from U of G, TRIUMF, Simon Fraser University, Saint Mary’s University, Université de Montréal and other institutions. As the project’s principal investigator, Svensson works closely with TRIUMF research scientist Adam Garnsworthy.

Comparing the instrument to a giant microscope using gamma rays instead of visible light, Svensson says, “It allows us to ‘see’ what is going on at the level of the atomic nucleus.”

The team will use GRIFFIN to help answer key questions about the forces of nature and matter.

Scientists believe that additional forces must exist besides the four known ones (gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear forces). Referring to recent work on such topics as matter and antimatter, Svensson says, “There are observations that these four forces alone cannot explain. We will use GRIFFIN to search for new fundamental interactions in nature that are predicted but have not yet been observed.”

He says the new device will also yield clues about how elements form in stellar events such as supernova explosions. “Atomic nuclei represent most of the mass of normal matter in the universe, and it’s essential to understand how the chemical elements are formed in stars.”

The new GRIFFIN detector – actually an array of 16 detectors made of ultra-pure germanium crystals – will replace a 30-year-old spectrometer and will involve development of new detector technology and digital electronics. It will help scientists worldwide study the basic forces that hold together the components of an atom’s nucleus.

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