The quirks of quarks


U of R researchers help make subatomic history

Sophie Long
News Writer

In a universe that’s existed for around 13.75 billion years – give or take a few hundred million – seven years isn’t much. But for University of Regina professors Zisiz Papandreou and George Lolos, seven years has meant an investment of energy and thought along with time.

And late this past month, those seven years paid off.    

Since 2002, the GlueX project, led by Papandreou and Lolos, has been an ongoing project that saw students and researchers at the U of R trying to find out why matter stays together. The university partnered with the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virigina.

On March 23, the team announced that they have finally finished building a barrel calorimeter, a machine used to track the activity of quarks. The calorimeter, which Lolos said the team has worked on since 2005, will be used at the accelerator facility over the next decade to monitor the behaviour of quarks, in order to understand what causes matter to stay together.

“Students, by hand, painstakingly prepared, arranged, and glued nearly a million fibres together in tiny, one-millimeter grooves in the lead, and the total length of these fibers exceeds 3300 kilometers,” said Papandreou during a presentation of the work at the Research and Innovation Centre.

University of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor Vianne Timmons, one of several important faces in the crowd, acknowledged the achievement of her establishment. Saskatchewan Minister for Advanced Education Rob Norris, who was also present, spoke about the importance of continued research, saying that research and innovation are the future of Saskatchewan.

“First and foremost, this is about Saskatchewan playing a key role in a very important Canada-US science initiative, based on fundamental science,” Norris said. “That helps to raise the prestige and profile of Saskatchewan researchers and certainly the University of Regina.

“Secondly, it’s important because sixty students are being given very rare opportunity to be on the cutting edge of subatomics.

“Thirdly, it’s important because Saskatchewan is contributing in a very tangible, very important way to bolstering Canada-US relations.”

Simply creating the calorimeter will not instantly reveal all of the universe’s secrets. Lolos predicted that, by 2016, data will begin to come in.

“The hardest part starts now,” he said. “It will have to be tested and calibrated. By 2015, the first data will start to come in. Then, of course, we’ll be debugging the system. Then it will be another three years or so until we have enough data and we’ll know whether we have actually found the Holy Grail.”

This significance of this machine is not only being recognized by the physics community in Regina. The United States Department of Energy has recognized the project as a “discovery experiment,” which means that it is Nobel Prize-worthy. 

Members of Parliament, such as member for Lumsden-Lake Centre Tom Lukiwski, have commented on this achievement, saying, “The government of Canada is proud to support the development of this device and the GlueX project.” 

The attention the project has been receiving, according to Lolos, is good news for the University of Regina. He believes the successful research will attract more prestigious faculty members, which will in turn increase the number of students interested in studying here.

One of the most excited and enthusiastic audience members present on March 23 was Vianne Timmons.

“This project shows that the University of Regina researchers are world-class and can compete with the best of them in the world,” she said, “and that’s really significant.”

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