Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

December 01, 2003

U of G physicists gain from new $39-million ‘SNOLAB’

University of Guelph researchers will benefit from a nearly $39-million investment announced today by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for a new international underground science facility.

The CFI funding will transform the existing Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) into a world-class astrophysics facility called SNOLAB. “This project represents a bold step into the future for our research community and for our country,” said Andy Mitchell, Secretary of State (Rural Development) (Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario), who made the announcement on behalf of Industry Minister Allan Rock, along with David Strangway, CFI’s president and CEO.

U of G scientists helped design and construct the sophisticated instruments for SNO, a neutrino telescope the size of a 10-storey building that is located two kilometres underground in a mine near Sudbury. Built as an experiment and headed Carleton University, SNO relies on heavy water to detect neutrinos from the sun and other astrophysical objects and measure their properties. The expansion will transform the original experiment into a permanent installation that will include new underground experimental halls and surface laboratories

In 2001, SNO researchers solved the mystery of solar neutrinos that had baffled scientists since the early 1970s. In September, they confirmed their earlier findings that two-thirds of the electron-type neutrinos produced by nuclear reactions in the core of the sun change to other types of neutrinos – muon and tau neutrinos – before reaching Earth.

U of G researchers were involved in both phases of data collection, and Prof. Jimmy Law, a nuclear physicist, helped write and test the software used to analyze the data generated.

Guelph will also participate in new research at the new SNOLAB facility.
"SNO has been a very successful international collaboration of physicists from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom,” Law said. More than 130 researchers are involved in the project. “SNOLAB opens up international collaboration even more by providing a home for any international group of scientists who need to run an experiment that will push the frontier of physics, shielded from the flotsam and jetsam of space."

The first SNO report had deep implications for physics theory because the transformation appears to arise from a finite mass for neutrinos, and the Standard Model of Elementary Particles predicts neutrinos have no mass. The follow-up research used table salt as the main ingredient to obtain new measurements. Because it contains chlorine, salt provides for three times better sensitivity to detect all the neutrinos, so the measurements go much further in establishing the properties of neutrinos that cause them to change, Law said.

SNO is the only facility in the world that can make such accurate detections because it includes a giant sphere filled with ultra-pure heavy water that contains heavy hydrogen. Neutrinos passing through break up the deuterium into a neutron and a proton, which is crucial to the measurement process. A third phase of data collection is expected to provide even further insight into neutrino properties.

"Guelph has profited tremendously from the affiliation with SNO,” Law said, adding that graduate students have worked through the various phases and co-op students have gained experience working at participating institutions. In addition to Law, U of G researchers involved in SNO are Prof. Bernie Nickel, now-retired physics professors John Simpson and Robin Ollerhead, researchers Pillalamarri Jagam and Ian Lawson, and graduate student Hendrick Labranche.

The project, which was funded from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s International Joint Ventures Fund, also includes Laurentian University, Queen’s University, Université de Montreal and the University of British Columbia..

Prof. Jimmy Law
Department of Physics
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53021

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