Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Short Sharp Science

Earthquake-damaged particle smasher set to restart

David Shiga, reporter
A Japanese particle accelerator damaged in the March 2011 earthquake is set to resume operations after extensive repairs.
The accelerator, located in Tokai, about 260 kilometres south of hard-hit Sendai, is part of the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC). Prior to the earthquake, it was being used to generate neutrinos as part of an experiment called T2K, among other projects.
In June, T2K researchers announced they had observed a kind of neutrino transformation never seen before, in data collected before the earthquake. Neutrinos are fickle particles known to transform from one type to another spontaneously, but the kind of morphing seen by T2K had not been observed before.
Researchers are interested in finding out whether regular neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts transform at different rates, which could help explain why the universe contains more matter than antimatter. Data collected by T2K in future could help answer this question. T2K also might test the claim made last year that neutrinos had been measured moving faster than light from CERN in Switzerland to an underground lab in Italy.
In addition to damaging roads and causing leaks in the buildings housing the accelerator, the March earthquake knocked the accelerator's magnets out of alignment. The magnets are used to steer the beam of protons and must be very precisely aligned to do this properly.
After re-aligning the magnets, J-PARC researchers successfully sent a proton beam through all parts of the accelerator for the first time on 26 December, according to Symmetry magazine. They are now carrying out more tests with the beam and hope to restart experiments like T2K at the end of January.


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