Neutrino physics: past, present and future

On 19th December we hosted a neutrino symposium in our Springer Nature campus in London. We invited four scientists to share their views and excitement about the past, present and future of neutrino physics. The meeting was organised together with King’s College London and with the support of JSPS.
Neutrino physics: past, present and future

Mark Vagins, professor at UC Irvine and the first full-time foreign professor at Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in Japan told the history of supernova neutrinos and explained the gadolinium detection he invented, claiming he owns more gadolinium than any other human.

Mark Vagins giving his presentation in front of a screen and Springer Nature banners

Atsuko Ichikawa, associate professor at Kyoto University and the spokesperson of the T2K experiment in Japan started her talk by asking “why am I here?” It turned out that she was referring to the reason why there is more matter than antimatter in the Universe rather than question her presence at the meeting. This became clear as she explained the mechanism of neutrino oscillations and CP violation.

Linda Cremonesi introduced the NoVA, DUNE and ANITA experiments illustrating her slides with the iconic particlezoo neutrinos. She explained how one launches and recovers a balloon-borne experiment such as ANITA in the most remote locations in Antarctica and described the IceCube experiment at the South Pole.

Linda Cremonesi giving a presentation to a room full of people sat in rows.

During the lunch break Ben Still, visiting research fellow at Queen Mary University London, particle physicist, author and educator gave a live demonstration of his unique way of explaining particle physics using LEGO bricks. The participants had the opportunity to build their own particles.

A group of participants around a table, building their own 'particles'

A speaker gives a presentation

David Wark, professor at University of Oxford and former director of the particle physics group at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, T2K international spokesperson, UK co-spokesperson of SNO experiment, gave a round-up talk explaining what we knew, and thought we knew back in 1981 compared what we know, we think we know, and we really do not know today. There are many exciting questions about neutrinos.

A keen group of sixth form students attended the symposium. “I’d vaguely heard of neutrinos, but I didn’t know much about what they were” one of them told us. When asked whether they could follow the talks they answered “Yeah, at least most of it. I especially love the LEGO demonstration, it’s so interactive and accessible”. Most of the students are planning to study physics at university – although one student said he was there just for fun!

The event ended with and open discussion moderated by Yoshi Uchida, professor at Imperial College.

The first question was where are we going in the longer term future (>10 years) and what is the public support for the neutrino program? In Japan the funding looks good as Hyper-Kamiokande has just been given green light and the speakers called the neutrino “the national particle of Japan”. The speakers recalled personal experiences with members of the general public being extremely knowledgeable, supportive and sometimes in awe of neutrino physics.  David Wark pointed out that in most areas of science, you wouldn’t dream of having a strategy for 10 years or more.

five Panelists sit behind a desk, answering questions from the audience

Asked about the challenges of working in large collaborations the speakers mentioned cultural differences, major travel and communication over different time zones. Astuko Ichikawa compared large collaboration to the teams behind Formula 1 cars, or a rocket going to the Moon. For winning the Grand Prix or reaching the Moon you need large teams of experts and you need them to cooperate. Everyone has their own part to play and each project is a creative one, each person has to do a creative work so it is very rewarding.

Another question was whether we are running out of testable theories? None of the speakers thought that was the case, although they agreed that most theories are unlikely to be correct. Linda Cremonesi pointed out that saying we don’t have any good theories is a very LHC-centric view of things. There are a lot of open questions in neutrino physics and many exciting possibilities.

When asked what do they do outside of work, the speakers came up with unexpected hobbies such as a rock band, standup comedy and impersonating Santa Claus.

Five panelists smiling, sat behind a desk. Mark Vagins (second from left) wears a santa hat.

When asked whether they would bet on neutrinos being Majorana or Dirac particle, four out of five speakers voted for Majorana and only Mark Vagins proved to be a Dirac supporter.

When asked what is THE thing they want to find out in the next decade most of the speakers agreed on: measuring neutrinos from the Big Bang, confirming the CP violation and understanding how big is it and answering whether neutrinos are Majorana particles or not. David Wark added that he wants to see something genuinely unexpected, because we haven’t had anything completely unpredicted – that turned out to be correct – for a long time.

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