University of Alberta
Neutrinos are perhaps the greatest mystery in the universe. Right now, mind-boggling numbers of them (trillions and trillions per cubic metre) are flowing through space, the far-flung debris of exploding stars. They come pouring out of the sun onto the Earth’s surface, but they only rarely interact with other particles and are indifferent to matter. If you hold out your hand, hundreds of billions of these particles will stream through it each second, but we can’t see them, feel them or smell them. So why do they exist and what is their purpose?
Darren Grant is on a mission to solve the neutrino mystery, and he’s building the net he needs to catch and study them. Neutrinos give off no traceable energy, which means that if you want to study them you need to be in a very isolated environment that is remote from any other kind of particle or radiation such as heat, light, and sound. To achieve this, the University of Alberta researcher conducts his studies at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located at the South Pole, which uses the pristine ice as a medium for observing and recording the interactions of neutrinos. Grant led design and feasibility studies to create the DeepCore array, a system of photoelectric sensors buried in a cubic kilometre of ice, which greatly increased the sensitivity of the detector. This has allowed researchers to capture some of the highest-energy—and rarest—neutrinos and learn more about these mysterious particles.
Grant is now leading work on PINGU, an even more enhanced array of sensors that will extend IceCube’s reach as the most sensitive high-energy neutrino detector in the world. Thanks to his work, researchers will have one of the most powerful tools yet for understanding neutrinos and the mysterious part they play in our universe.