SMU Daily Campus: Navigating neutrinos — Professor studies most elusive particle in the universe

Thomas Coan, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Physics, works with more than 200 scientists around the world to study one of the universe's most elusive particles — the neutrino. (Photo: Ellen Smith, The Daily Campus)

Thomas Coan, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Physics, works with more than 200 scientists around the world to study one of the universe’s most elusive particles — the neutrino.
(Photo: Ellen Smith, The Daily Campus)

Journalist Lauren Aguirre of the SMU Daily Campus covered the research of SMU physicist Thomas E. Coan, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Physics.

Coan collaborates with more than 200 scientists around the world to study one of the universe’s most elusive particles — the neutrino.

Neutrinos could yield crucial information about the early moments of the universe, according to Coan and other scientists on the NOvA experiment, which will gather data from a detector in Minnesota.

“Neutrinos are fascinating. They are, besides light, the most numerous particle in the universe yet are notoriously difficult to study since they interact with the rest of matter so feebly,” he said. “Produced in many venues, from laboratories to stars and even bones, they may be their own anti-particles and perhaps play a key role in explaining why any matter at all exists today and survived annihilation with its sister anti-matter produced all the way back in the Big Bang, many billions of years ago.”

The NUMI Off-Axis electron neutrino Appearance, or NOvA, is the world’s longest-distance neutrino experiment. It consists of two huge particle detectors placed 500 miles apart, and its job is to explore the properties of an intense beam of neutrinos.

The Daily Campus article published Feb. 27, “Navigating neutrinos: Professor studies most elusive particle in the universe.”

Read the full story.

EXCERPT:

By Lauren Aguirre
The Daily Campus

Thomas Coan, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Physics, is working with over 200 scientists from around the world to study one of the universe’s most elusive particles — the neutrino.

Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, but are hard to detect because they rarely interact with other particles. The NuMI Off-Axis electron neutrino Appearance, or NOvA, experiment may explain the makeup of the universe.

“Neutrinos play a key role in explaining why anti-matter still exists,” Coan said.

Anti-matter are particles that have the same mass as ordinary matter people are familiar with, but anti-matter has opposite charges. When matter and anti-matter collide, they annihilate each other. According to the NOvA experiment website, studying neutrinos can help explain why the universe has more matter than anti-matter. Because humans are made of regular matter, understanding the balance between these two particles can explain why humans exist.

“By understanding these fundamental questions, we can get down to the fundamental levels of how the universe works,” said Brian Rebel, a staff scientist at Fermilab, the organization that is managing NOvA.

Coan started working at SMU in 1994 and joined the NOvA collaboration in 2005.

Read the full story.

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