A major international physics research project involving more than 200 scientists from 39 institutes, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has set out on a quest to answer some puzzling questions.
These relate to the elusive neutrinos, the elementary uncharged particles produced in nuclear reactions, such as those observed on the sun, by cosmic rays. They are also produced in nuclear power plants.
"Through learning more about neutrinos, we may be able to discover new details about how Earth was created, as well as useful information about the sun," says CUHK's Chu Ming-chung, the principal Hong Kong investigator for the research project.
The research project is known as the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment and involves CUHK researchers along with their international colleagues. They are studying neutrinos produced by the Daya Bay nuclear power plant, located about 70 kilometres to the northeast of the Hong Kong International Airport.
"This is the first time in history that researchers from Hong Kong have joined a major international research project in elementary particle physics," says Chu.
The Daya Bay collaboration comprises institutes from the mainland, United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Russia and the Czech Republic. Local researchers are playing a unique role, bridging cultural gaps as language intermediaries between the English- and Chinese-speaking researchers working on the project.
Chu says the Daya Bay nuclear plant is an ideal location to study neutrinos given its geographical setting and high level of neutrinos produced by its reactors.
Submerged in pure water and measuring five meters in diameter, the subsystem of the first pair of antineutrino detectors was designed and built by the Hong Kong research and design team. Data is due to be collected over a three-year period and could lead to further experiments.
To support the Daya Bay project, the CUHK team and collaborators from the US, Taiwan and the mainland have built a satellite laboratory in the Aberdeen Tunnel to study high energy cosmic rays.