Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

UVA Physicists Contributing to $271 Million Experiment at Fermilab

Two men working to fabricate a large mechanical part
UVA physicists are building components for one of the largest physics experiments ever conducted in the U.S. The results may rival the discovery of the Higgs boson. Here, graduate student Steve Boi, left, and physics Professor Craig Group prepare modules for shipping to Fermilab near Chicago. (Photo: UVA)

Physicists at the University of Virginia are building a key component to one of the largest and most complex physics experiments ever conducted in the United States.  It could rewrite the physics books.

The sub-atomic Muon particles appear to be morphing into electrons.

Craig Dukes :  This can’t happen

So UVA Physicist Craig Dukes and his team have built a muon detector to find out why.

Dukes:  We need to make as many muons as there are grains of sand in all the beaches in the world.  And then we are looking for them to do something forbidden

If they catch them at it, it might help explain dark matter, fill gaps in our understanding of the universe, rewrite particle physics books.

Dukes:  So if we see this it’s evidence there’s some new physics there.

Meanwhile, muon detectors could find radiation in food, hidden chambers in the Great Pyramid, bad guys with suitcase bombs.  But that’s just the start.

Dukes: I think the detectors that we build can be used for things we just can’t imagine.  General relativity, when Einstein came up with it more than 100 years ago, nobody thought it would be any use for anybody except perhaps a few cosmologists. And now it’s extremely important.  The global positioning system that we have would not work if we did not understand general relativity. And of course, we use that system for everything.  We’ll probably be using it to drive our cars in a few years’ time. It’s sort of like sending your ships out before we’ve really discovered what was in the world and hopefully we’ll find something.  And I like that, actually.

The US Department of Energy is betting 271 million dollars they will.

And UVA’s detector is being assembled right now at DOE’s Fermilab just outside of Chicago