Particle Physicist, Dr Melissa Uchida, captivated pupils with her well attended lecture, entitled “Liquid Hydrogen, 50,000 tonnes of water and a Nuclear reactor”. Dr Uchida, of Imperial College, London (ICL), discussed the discipline’s journey to provide us with a complete understanding of the universe, as well as her own experience in the hunt for answers to humanity’s greatest questions.
The talk mainly focused on her work in Japan on the T2K (Tokai to Kamioka) experiment, which studies the second-lightest particle in existence: neutrinos. These elusive particles, she explained, are very difficult to detect and pass uninterrupted through nearly everything – in fact 3 billion pass through the area of your fingernail every second. The neutrinos are fired underground over a distance of 295km from the east to west coast of Japan towards the Super-Kamiokande detector: 50,000 tonnes of ultra-pure water surrounded by over 11,000 photomultiplier tubes. These tubes detect and identify different types of neutrino and the changes they undergo in transit, potentially shedding light on the processes at the start of the Big Bang.
Dr Uchida also discussed her research into matter and antimatter in a nuclear reactor at ILL, Grenoble and her current research on the Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE) at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxford, which would produce a beam of muons and help us design a muon accelerator – the ‘holy grail’ of particle physics.