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AU researcher tapped to investigate glasses for 'huge particle physics experiment'
8/29/11

An Alfred University researcher has been chosen to evaluate the glasses that will be used in a "huge particle physics experiment" being undertaken by the Brookhaven (BNL) and Fermi National Accelerator (FNAL) laboratories.

S.K. Sundaram, Inamori Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University, will be evaluating the mechanical properties of glasses that could be critical to the success of the collaborative project being undertaken by the national laboratories.

Two vendors have supplied glasses to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, proposing the glasses be used to house neutrino detectors inside a device called a photomultiplier tube for what is called the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE).

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are similar in size to electrons, but that have no charge. They travel over long distances close to the speed of light, but are very difficult to detect because they can pass through solid materials without affecting them.

Neutrinos from earth can make it to the Moon in about a second, Sundaram explained. Researchers are interested in them because they appear to play a more complicated role in the composition of matter than previously thought.

Physicists are proposing to send a high-intensity muon (one of the three "flavors" or types) neutrino beam from FNAL in Weston, IL, through more than 1,000 kilometers of earth to detectors at the Homestake Mine in Lead, SD. The detectors, encased in glass, will be placed in the mineshaft, which will then be flooded with high-purity water. When the neutrinos collide with water molecules, the emitting a faint glow, called Chenokov radiation, that is detected by the detectors, Sundaram said.

"The detectors will be far underground for a long duration so the glass needs to be able to withstand the pressure of the water filling the mine shaft," explained Matthew Hall, director of the Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT) at Alfred, which is supporting the project in conjunction with Brookhaven.

"Should one of the photon-multiplier tubes implode - as one did during a similar experiment conducted by the Japanese in 2001 - it could destroy an entire array of glass tubes," Hall said.

"This is a huge particle physics experiment," Hall said. "There is no obvious linkage between glass science and ‘Big Physics,’ but in this instance, the durability of the glass is critical to the success of the experiment. The fact that BNL chose Dr. Sundaram and Alfred University to test the mechanical properties of the glass speaks to Dr. Sundaram’s and Alfred University’s reputation in this field. It also underscores the importance of materials, in this case, glass, in all fields."

The Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology at Alfred University is part of the state-supported Centers for Advanced Technology Program overseen by NYSTAR, a division of the Empire State Development Corporation charged with overseeing science and technology programs.

For more about the Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University: http://engineering.alfred...

For more about S.K. Sundaram: http://engineering.alfred...

For more about the Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology at Alfred University: http://cact.alfred.edu

For more about Brookhaven National Laboratory: http://www.bnl.gov/world/

For more about Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory: http://www.fnal.gov/

For more about the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment: http://lbne.fnal.gov/