News of Note

Issue Date: 
July 18, 2011

Pitt Physicists Part of Global Project Reporting that Particle Beam Could Reveal Clues About Universe

Pitt researchers were part of an international team of physicists that recorded activity in a particle beam fired from one side of Japan to the other that could help explain the composition of the Universe.

The Japan-based T2K collaboration, which includes approximately 500 scientists from 59 institutions worldwide, recently reported that a beam of neutrally charged particles known as neutrinos transformed from one type of neutrino into another as the particles were fired 185 miles through the Earth. The morphing of muon neutrinos into electron neutrinos was the first observed conversion, or oscillation, involving these “flavors” of neutrino, as the particle’s three varieties are known.

Vittorio Paolone, Steven Dytman, and Donna Naples, professors of physics and astronomy in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, oversaw the electronics that detected the type and concentration of neutrinos in the particle beam as it left the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC) in Tokai. Those readings were compared against the content of the particle beam when it reached the Super-Kamiokande detector in Kamioka to determine the level of neutrino oscillation, Paolone said.

The crossover of the muon neutrinos to electron neutrinos presents a new avenue for exploring the Universe’s structure, Paolone explained. This new type of oscillation will allow scientists to study charge-polarity violation in neutrinos. Charge-polarity violation is a phenomenon thought to be the reason why the Universe contains far more matter than antimatter, Paolone said.

Matter and antimatter existed in equal amounts when the Universe was created. But unknown disruptions gave one state an advantage over the other as the Universe was developing, Paolone said. The T2K experiment suggests that neutrinos might have had some part in causing the unbalance, he said.

“Charge-polarity violation may have occurred early on in the development of the Universe, changing matter so that it became the dominant state,” Paolone explained. “The question is, what tipped the balance toward matter?”

The T2K results unexpectedly reopened the possibility of explaining how matter trumped antimatter, Paolone said. Previous research had determined that particles known as quarks also undergo charge-polarity violation, but further study found it occurred on too small of a scale to change the balance of the Universe.

The T2K experiment is primarily funded by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Pitt is one of 70 U.S. institutions working on the project with support for the American collaborators also coming from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science. The J-PARC facility was damaged during the March 2011 earthquake in Japan (Paolone was one of the researchers at the facility during the quake). The complex is expected to begin operating again by late 2011.

—Morgan Kelly

Zadorozhny to Help Secure Next-Generation Wireless Networks Under International Award From Research Council of Norway

An international project to make the next generation of wireless Internet networks more secure and efficient has called upon Pitt professor Vladimir Zadorozhny, whose work in Pitt’s School of Information Sciences (iSchool) focuses on information networks and wireless systems, among other areas.

Zadorozhny was recently awarded a Leiv Eiriksson Fellowship and research grant from the Research Council of Norway to explore efficient data processing, privacy, and security in large-scale information networks. Zadorozhny’s work also will benefit a larger effort supported by the European Commission to improve wireless networks and mobile systems of the future. Pitt is one of only three American universities working on the project along with 10 institutions in Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, China, Mexico and Tunisia.

The fellowship stems from the Research Council’s Leiv Eiriksson mobility program, which is intended to encourage collaboration between researchers in Norway and the United States and Canada. As part of his award, Zadorozhny will spend a portion of 2011 conducting research in Norway at the University of Agder, which is coordinating the European Commission endeavor. Zadorozhny has frequently collaborated with Agder researchers in the past and plans to use his fellowship as an opportunity to establish long-term projects between Pitt’s iSchool and the University of Agder.

—Morgan Kelly