Chasing “Ghost Particle” at Central Michigan University

How did the universe start?

This question has challenged humans since the start of recorded history. Students in the Physics lab of Central Michigan University physics professor Matt Redshaw are one step closer to helping to answer that question thanks to cutting edge research they are conducting,  creating experiments to measure the neutrino, the “ghost particle.”

Everything that exists in the universe can be described by “mass” or the amount of matter that it has. Neutrinos are difficult to measure because their mass is so small it is almost impossible to measure.

According to recent research, a neutrino has been determined to weigh no more than 1.1 electron volts, or 500,000 times SMALLER than an electron.

Why is this important?

According to current theory, neutrinos were created during the Big Bang, the origin event of the universe and while small, there are enough neutrinos in the universe to impact the gravity of the universe, and will contribute to our understanding of how the universe was created and changed over time.

Professor Redshaw and his students are creating a Penning trap, a device using static and magnetic electric fields to confine charged particles to measure them. “Our goal is to do these measurements more precisely than you could do at an existing facility,” he said.

So, while there are large national labs that are conducting research on neutrinos, they do not have equipment that can measure the mass of neutrinos with precision.”Redshaw’s experiment pushes the precision frontier at a level that we can’t do,” said Ryan Ringle, senior physicist at one lab, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams/National Superconducting lab.

This research involves both undergraduate and graduate level students and allows them to participate in cutting edge research and hopefully will contribute to our understanding of the universe.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is mass?
  2. What is a neutrino?
  3. What does a Penning trap do?
  4. Why is this research considered cutting edge?
  5. What questions would you ask Professor Redshaw and his students?

For more information, please see Gary Piatek’s article here. 


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