High-energy physicists win natural science award

By Cheng Yingqi | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-11 07:44

Chinese high-energy physicists may have been dealt a blow when their recent proposal to build a next-generation particle collider more advanced than the Large Hadron Collider was turned aside by the government.

Yet they have received recognition for research in other fields, with the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment winning a State Natural Science Award.

The experiment involved more than 100 scientists from China, the United States and Russia, among others, in an underground facility located close to the Daya Bay Reactor in Guangdong province, lasting for two months from late 2011 to early 2012.

They discovered a new "neutrino oscillation" - the transformation of one type of particle into another - which was previously a mystery left unanswered by two Nobel Prize winners.

The discovery was ranked as Breakthrough of the Year 2012 in Science magazine, alongside the discovery of the Higgs boson particle.

In 2015, the team received $3 million in prize money from entrepreneur Yuri Milner for winning the Breakthrough Prize.

"After the discovery of Higgs boson - a particle that is important for explaining why other elementary particles have mass - exploration into any unknown particles will require new research facilities. However, the Large Hadron Collider in Europe is hitting its limits of energy level, so we are pinning our hopes on neutrino research," said Wang Yifang, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of High Energy Physics, who led the Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment.

"Investment in neutrino facilities is smaller, so we can carry out our experiments at many different places simultaneously," Wang said.

In 2015, China started a second-generation neutrino experimental facility project in Jiangmen, Guangdong province, with a goal to replace the existing Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment by 2020.

In an earlier email to China Daily, Marcos Dracos, a high-energy physicist at the University of Strasbourg in France, who is chair of the Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory Institutional Board, said the Daya Bay experiments proved China's research strength, which has changed the opinions of many European scientists.

"With the Daya Bay discovery, China has proved that it is able to make significant discoveries in fundamental physics on its own soil. In the same way, Chinese particle physicists have also proved that they are able to propose, build and operate large international collaborations. They showed the whole world that they can be trusted and that they are supported by their country in this field of research," he said.

(China Daily 01/11/2017 page5)

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