SCIENCE IN JAPAN: POLITICS, UNIVERSITIES, NEUTRINOS, OCEANS AND ARTIFICIAL ATOMS

SCIENCE IN JAPAN

In Japan, much more money goes into the applied science — the exploitation of scientific discoveries for commercial applications — than basic science — which is focused on making discoveries and explaining how and why things work. Science is generally regarded as a means of boosting economic growth. In the past it was regarded as a means of improving Japan’s military strength.

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Hitachi linear accelerator

Both industry and the government devote large amounts of money to applied science. Decisions on funding are made by a committee of distinguished scientists appointed by the Ministry of Education. In 2010 the Japanese government said it plans to allocate funds worth one percent of GNP — about $30 billion over five years — to science, technology and research.

Japan produces more patents per capita than any other nation, twice as many as the United States. In 2007, Japan was named the world’s most innovative nation by the business arm of the Economist magazine with innovation being defined as “the application of knowledge in a novel way, primarily for the economic benefit.” Switzerland, the United States and Sweden were ranked second through forth.

Japan roughly spends half what the United States spends on scientific research ($118 billion to $229 billion in 1999). After a series or reports on the sad state of university laboratories in Japan in the 1990s the spending on research has increased dramatically. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry research and development funds declined in 2009 and 2010. Many major corporations — including those in electronics and pharmaceuticals — have moved their research bases outside Japan.

Some Japanese measurements: 1) kin (1.32 pounds); kwan (8.67 pounds); 3) sun (1.93 inches); 4) shaku (11.93 inches); 5) ken (5.95 feet); 6) ri (2.44 miles); 7) cho (2.44 acres); 8) 1 koku (39.7 gallons). One koku is enough rice to feed one person for one year. It is equal to about 180 liters.

Japan is statistics-mad country. The government keeps statistics on everything from the number of houses with air conditioners to the dates when cherry blossoms are most likely to bloom.

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: SCIENCE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NOBEL PRIZES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SPACE PROGRAM Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TECHNOLOGY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GADGETRY AND INVENTIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ROBOTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SONY, TOYOTA AND HONDA ROBOTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; UNIVERSITIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources: Japan Science and Technology Agency jst.go.jp/EN ; MEXT, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology mext.go.jp/english ; Science Links Japan sciencelinks.jp ; Stanford University J-Guide to Science and Technology jguide.stanford.edu ;Japan Advanced Institute of Science of Technology jaist.ac.jp ; Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation jiii.or.jp/english ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Science and Technology Chapter stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp ; Trends in Japan: Science and Technology web-japan.org/trends/science ; Book: “Japanese Science From the Inside” by Samuel Coleman (Routledge, 2000).

Science Museums National Museum of Nature and Science kahaku.go.jp/english ; Museum of Natural History Tohuku University dges.tohoku.ac.jp/museum ; Osaka Museum of Natural History mus-nh.city.osaka.jp ; National Science Museum (Ueno Park in Tokyo) kahaku.go.jp National Museum of Nature and Science and Technology Tokyotopia tokyotopia.com ; Research Centers: Tsukuba Science City Wikipedia Article Wikipedia ; Fujitsu Laboratories fujitsu.com/group/labs ; Hitachi Research Laboratories hitachi.com/rd/hrl ; Toshiba Research and Development Center toshiba.co.jp

Physics and Biotechnology: Institute of Pure and Applied Physics ipap.jp ; Japan Society of Applied Physics jsap.or.jp ;Biotechnology in Japan .pref.chiba.lg.jp/syozoku ; Paper on Biotechnology in Japan valutech.com.au/Media/Biotechnology

Famous Japanese Scientists

Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928) is a biologist whose main claim to fame was discovering the bacteria that causes syphilis. He is pictured on new ¥1,000 bank notes introduced in 2004. He died of yellow fever in South Africa while studying yellow fever there.

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Hideyo Noguchi

Yutaka Taniyama, a brilliant postwar mathematician, committed suicide at age 31.

Japanese researcher Mayu Yamamoto was given an Ig Nobel — a tongue-in-cheek take on the Nobel Prize — for chemistry in 2008 for her work extracting vanilla flavoring from cow dung, Three other Japanese researchers were given the award in 2008 for discovering an ameboid that can figure out the shortest distance through a maze. In 2004 Daisuke Inoue was given a special Ig Nobel peace award for inventing karaoke. In 2005 Inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu won the award in nutritional science for taking photos of every meal he ate for 35 years and analyzing the effects of his food on brain activity.

In 2010, a Nagano resident, 55-year-old Shigweru Kondo, worked at the value of pi to a record 5 trillion digits using a personal computer he made himself using 32 terabytes of hard-drive capacity. He beat a record of 2.7 trillion places set by a French man in 2009.

See Nobel Prize

Edison Worship in Japan

Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: On the connection between the American inventor, Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and the bamboo of Kyoto, Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, According to a description at the museum in Rakusai Bamboo Park in Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, Edison was trying to find a filament that would burn long enough to be of practical value for his invention--the electric lightbulb. From his New Jersey lab, the great inventor sent scouts to various countries in search of an appropriate material, and ultimately tested the fibers of about 6,000 plants. [Source: Christal Whelan, Daily Yomiuri, February 19, 2012]

“Edison become the object of worship for a Japanese religious group called Denshinkyo, or "electric gods. " According to a newspaper article in 1949, a Japanese ministry granted the group official status after deliberating whether it was Buddhist, Shinto or something else. As the group's object of worship was "Edison-no-mikoto" ("mikoto" is a suffix used for deities) the ministry identified it as Shinto. The religion would give people the opportunity to express gratitude for the benefits of electricity, peace and scientific knowledge.

“Whelan was unable to find anyone who belonged to the religion but she did find a Shinto priest willing to talk about him. "In the past, Edison might have been deified, but not now," the Shinto priest said. "The base of Shinto is that we humans manage to live because of water, trees and nature. We're expressing a deep gratitude that goes beyond the nation. Through Edison's invention and genius, people's lives were enriched. He gave us light. And that was initially made possible from the nature around this shrine.”

“In nearby Arashiyama, on the precincts of the Shingon temple Horinji, is a Shinto shrine called Dendengu devoted to Denden Myojin, the ancestral god of electronics. Here, Edison together with the German scientist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857-1894), who discovered electromagnetic waves, are memorialized with a stone pagoda and monument.

Lack of Scientific Advances in Japan

A lack of great scientific discoveries in Japan has been blamed on excessive government control over research funding and education, the dominance of the Confucian seniority system and the emphasis on incremental advances and an eye on detail rather bold experimentation.

Syukoro Manabe, a prominent Japanese physicist, told the New York Times, "We have never come up with a true peer review system. The reason we have difficulty establishing a peer review system has to do with a kind of Asian culture. You don’t want to speak openly in criticism of someone else's work. It is kind of a mutual admiration society, and that has real consequences."

Money goes to improving existing products rather than basic research. A ministry of education official said, "Our researchers tend to choose easy projects, which is to say, building on things that are already known, so that they can expect results quickly."

Credit for inventions often goes to the company not the inventor. Although Japanese patent law requires companies to compensate employees for their for the ideas it doesn't specify how much. A researcher who invention earns his company million could be compensated with a few hundred dollars.

Confucian Seniority System and Science

The Confucian seniority system puts emphasis on promotions based on age rather merit and deep reverence towards seniors. Brilliant young scientist, at the peak of their creative powers, often are put to work doing go fer jobs for their seniors.

If a scientist takes a leave of absence to pursue a higher degree or study abroad this counts against him in the seniority system. Many company scientists are reluctant to take risks or deviate from their prescribed paths out of fear they might be passed over for promotions.

There is a lack of peer review and serious debate in the Japanese system. One esteemed Japanese scientist told the New York Times, "There is a lack of competition and critical evaluation in Japan. Promotions don't depend on the size of one's contribution but rather on their years of service, and scientists are very friendly."

Manabe said, "Research funding must go to those who deserve funding rather than distributing it equally. They have to find some way to support the really distinguished researchers who deserve support, rather than those who do research for the sake of research. What we need to create is job insecurity rather than security to make people compete more."

Science and Japanese Universities

Most educators believe that American universities are superior to those in Japan. Many Japanese universities have crowded labs, out-of-date facilities and a lack of funding. Even Tokyo University has been accused of having rundown equipment and out of date curriculums. In the many universities it is not uncommon for students to skip all their classes and get a friend to take the final exam for them.

In an effort to revitalize Japan's scientific research community, the government is allocated more funds to improve labs, do basic research and create more advanced degree programs. Top universities are trying to reduce class size, boost special skills and attract more young and dynamic lecturers and researchers.

Since few Americans read Japanese, Japan's scientific discoveries often go unreported in the United States.

Of the 200 researchers in the lab of Nobel-Prize winner only 10 percent are permanent full-time employees. The remaining 90 percent (aboout 190 workers) work with fixed-term contracts up to five years, which often requires them to look for new jobs when their contract expires.

Science and Politics in Japan

Makoto Mitsui wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Government funding for promoting science and technology in the fiscal 2011 draft budget, which forms the core of state science and technology allotments, was increased after being cut in fiscal 2010. The proposed science budget was set at 1.34 trillion yen, up 0.1 percent from the previous fiscal year. The cut in fiscal 2010 was the first in 27 years, and came amid the severe state of government finances. [Source: Makoto Mitsui, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 7, 2011]

“Since taking power in 2009, the DPJ-led administration has said it wants to reorganize and strengthen the Council for Science and Technology Policy. The government considered creating a new entity by integrating the council and a number of headquarters for strategies related to such issues as intellectual property and information technology in fiscal 2011. But concrete action has yet to be taken.”

“The government also has plans to improve Riken and other science and technology-related independent administrative entities, and establish a new state-run research institute to help achieve national strategies. But progress has been stalled. Although the government plans to submit a bill to the next ordinary Diet session to create the new research institute, it is feared this will not happen.”

An international conference of biodiversity was held in Nagoya in October 2010.

Geological, Polar and Ocean Research by Japan

In March 2006, a team from Tokyo Institute of Technology reported in the science journal Nature that it had found evidence of the earliest known life — methane trapped in rock created 3.5 billion years ago, 7000 million years old than any previously discovered evidence of life, The rock was found in a 3.5-billion-year-old stratum in the Pilhara region of western Australia. The methane contained carbon 12 — a kind of carbon associated with life. It was likely created by bacteria that lived in hot water near the bottom of the sea.

In January 2006, a government-sponsored Japanese team drilled three kilometers into Antarctic ice sheet and withdrew ice samples thought be over a million years old, the oldest ever examined at that time. Japanese scientists have come close to reaching the bedrock underneath the ice.

Barophilic (pressure-loving) microbes have been recovered by a Japanese submersible in the 36,000-foot-deep Mariana Trench.

Japan established Showa base in the Antarctic in 1957 and has used the base as staging area for important experiments relate to global warming, ozone depletion and other topics.

In April 2010, researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology said they had recreated the conditions at the Earth’s Inner core where the pressure is equivalent to having 100 Tokyo Tower pressing on you palm and iron is 165 percent denser than is it on the Earth’s surface. The feat was achieved using iron particles placed in a diamond anvil made up of two diamond who tips measure .04 millimeters that are pressed together and lasers that created pressure 3.64 million times that ground at sea level.

Deep-sea Exploration and Drilling

In April 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology recently unveiled three new unmanned deep-sea exploration vessels at its headquarters in Yokosuka. The exploration vessels are designed to independently explore preplanned routes deep underwater, untethered to support ships. One of the vessels, Yume-Iruka, which measures five meters long and weighs 2.7 tons, will be used to search for seafloor hydrothermal deposits, where scarce metals are believed to accumulate. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 10, 2012]

“The vessel will measure seabed topography with 10 to 100 times greater precision than measurements in the past, to detect hot water at depths of up to 3,000 meters. Yume-Iruka, which cost 800 million yen to develop, will begin operation in fiscal 2013. The other two vessels--Jinbei, which is four meters long and weighs 1.7 tons, and Otohime, which is 2-1/2 meters long and weighs 0.85 tons--will measure ocean carbon dioxide levels. The development costs of the two were about 900 million yen and 200 million yen, respectively.

“In April 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported the Chikyu, an 56,700-ton deep-sea drilling ship, set a record for the deepest undersea research drill, reaching a depth of 7,740 meters in waters off Miyagi Prefecture, the agency said, breaking the record of 7,049.5 meters set by a U.S. vessel in the Mariana Trench in 1978. The Chikyu was at anchor about 220 kilometers off Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, to research the focal regions on the seabed around the Japan Trench, which is believed to have generated huge tsunami on March 11 last year. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 29, 2012]

Nuclear Physics Research in Japan

Using a devise known as a “crab cavity” scientists at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba, Ibaraki succeeded in November 2005 in generating an electrical field with a with a record 52.3 million volts per meter using superconducting accelerators, The electrical charge was equivalent to connecting 35 million AA batteries in series. Japanese scientists said the achievement will help Japan win its bid to host an international accelerator project.

In May 2006, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency extended the plasma duration record to 28.6 seconds, smashing the previous world record of 16.5 second, using the JT-60 tokomak device. This is major step forward to developing nuclear fusion for commercial energy purposes. Plasma is an ionized gas composed of free-floating ions, electrons and neutral particles.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the highest vacuum ever achieved was achieved in a stainless steel chamber at K. Odaka and S. Ueda of Japan.

In January 2011, a team at the Tokyo Institute of Technology led by Prof. Nobuharu Iwasawa reported in a U.S. chemical journal that is had developed way to break carbon dioxide molecules’something that is usually very hard to do — with rhodium as a catalyst and use the released carbon atom to produce carbon compounds used in medical products or plastics.

Pentaquarks and Artificial Atoms

In 1995, Seigo Tarucha, a professor at Tokyo University faculty of Science, created an “artificial atom” by trapping a single electron in a disk made of semiconducting material with a diameter of 400 nanometers and making it behave as of it were inside an atom. Bigger than a real atom the artificial atom can be easily manipulated and monitored, making it easier to investigate the intracies of the atoms. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Tarucha is now working on developing quantum computers — which perform calculations using the properties of single electrons as opposed to contemporary computers which are considerably slower because they use streams of electrons.

In 2003, Takashi Nakano of Osaka University discovered a pentaquark, a bizarre subatomic practical made from five quarks. before that time all matter was thought to have been made from quarks that appeared in pairs or trios. The discovery was made using a particle accelerator borrowed from Russia.

Element 113: Ununtrium Reportedly Synthesized In Japan

In September 2012, Clara Moskowitz wrote in LiveScience: Scientists in Japan think they've finally created the elusive element 113, one of the missing items on the periodic table of elements. Element 113 is an atom with 113 protons in its nucleus — a type of matter that must be created inside a laboratory because it is not found naturally on Earth. Heavier and heavier synthetic elements have been created over the years, with the most massive one being element 118, temporarily named ununoctium. But element 113 has been stubbornly hard to create. [Source: Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience, September 26, 2012]

After years of trying, researchers at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Japan said they finally did so. On Aug. 12, the unstable element was formed and quickly decayed, leaving the team with data to cite as proof of the accomplishment. "For over nine years, we have been searching for data conclusively identifying element 113, and now that at last we have it, it feels like a great weight has been lifted from our shoulders," Kosuke Morita, leader of the research group, said in a statement.

If confirmed, the achievement will mark the first time Japan has discovered a new element, and should make Japan the first Asian country with naming rights to a member of the periodic table. Until now, only scientists in the United States, Russia and Germany have had that chance. "I would like to thank all the researchers and staff involved in this momentous result, who persevered with the belief that one day 113 would be ours," Morita said. "For our next challenge, we look to the uncharted territory of element 119 and beyond.”

Scientists are continually trying to create bigger and bigger atoms, both for the joy of discovery and for the knowledge these new elements can offer about how atoms work. Most things in the universe are made of very simple elements, such as hydrogen (which has one proton), carbon (six) and oxygen (eight). For each proton, atoms generally have roughly the same number of neutrons and electrons. Yet the more protons and neutrons that are packed into an atom's nucleus, the more unstable the atom can become. Scientists wonder if there is a limit to how large atoms can be. The first synthetic element was created in 1940, and so far 20 different elements have been made. All of these are unstable and many last only seconds before breaking apart into smaller elements.

Neutrino Research in Japan

In 1987, a team lead by Tokyo University’s Masatosgu Koshiba found evidence for the first time of the existence of neutrinos using the Super-Kamiokande (Super-K), a facility with sophisticated cosmic detectors installed at a depth of 1,000 meters in inside the Mozumi coal mine in Kamioka, Gifu Prefecture. The detector is a gigantic 50,000 liter cylindrical tank filled with super-purified water and lined with thousands of basketball-size bulb-like sensors called photoelectric multipliers (PMTs). Koshiba won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work with neutrinos in 2002.

Neutrinos are one of the most numerous and basic particles in the universe. For decades there existence was based on theories since no one had ever detected one. Because they have virtually no mass detecting one has been likened to isolating a single sand in the Sahara Desert. The mine is ideal because it lies under 1,000 meters of bedrock and neutrinos are virtually the only particles that can reach it. Understanding neutrinos is key to understanding how the universe began and gaining insight into the mysterious dark matter which has been calculated to make up 95 percent of the universe.

In June 1998, a 120-person team from Japan, the United States and Poland working at Super-K found evidence for the first time that neutrinos have mass.

In November 2001, a disaster occurred at the Super-K. One of the detectors broke, causing a chain reaction destroying or damaging 6,665 of the 11,146 PMTs. Repairs took five years and cost $30 million. Plans for a new facility called Hyper-K, with a bigger detector and more sensitive detector was put on hold. The neutrino detector was repaired and up and running again in June 2006.

The neutrino beamline is a cylindrical device that became operational it April 2009 at the Japan Proton Accelerator research Complex (J-PARC) in Toikaimurea, Ibaraki Prefecture that is designed to locate neutrinos. It is designed by Shin Tada, science who has long dyed-blond hair and like to wear camouflage jumpsuits.

Neutrinos

Ann Finkbeiner wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Neutrinos are among the lightest of the two dozen or so known subatomic particles and they come from all directions: from the Big Bang that began the universe, from exploding stars and, most of all, from the sun. They come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. [Source: Ann Finkbeiner, Smithsonian magazine , November 2010]

“The problem for physicists is that neutrinos are impossible to see and difficult to detect. Any instrument designed to do so may feel solid to the touch, but to neutrinos, even stainless steel is mostly empty space, as wide open as a solar system is to a comet. What’s more, neutrinos, unlike most subatomic particles, have no electric charge — they’re neutral, hence the name’so scientists can’t use electric or magnetic forces to capture them. Physicists call them “ghost particles.”

“Physicists study neutrinos in part because neutrinos are such odd characters: they seem to break the rules that describe nature at its most fundamental. And if physicists are ever going to fulfill their hopes of developing a coherent theory of reality that explains the basics of nature without exception, they are going to have to account for the behavior of neutrinos. In addition, neutrinos intrigue scientists because the particles are messengers from the outer reaches of the universe, created by violently exploding galaxies and other mysterious phenomena.”

Physicists imagined neutrinos long before they ever found any. In 1930, they created the concept to balance an equation that was not adding up. When the nucleus of a radioactive atom disintegrates, the energy of the particles it emits must equal the energy it originally contained. But in fact, scientists observed, the nucleus was losing more energy than detectors were picking up. So to account for that extra energy the physicist Wolfgang Pauli conceived an extra, invisible particle emitted by the nucleus.” “I have done something very bad today by proposing a particle that cannot be detected,” Pauli wrote in his journal. “It is something no theorist should ever do.”

Neutrino Experiments

“To capture these elusive entities, physicists have conducted some extraordinarily ambitious experiments,” Ann Finkbeiner wrote in Smithsonian magazine. “So that neutrinos aren’t confused with cosmic rays (subatomic particles from outer space that do not penetrate the earth), detectors are installed deep underground. Enormous ones have been placed in gold and nickel mines, in tunnels beneath mountains, in the ocean and in Antarctic ice. These strangely beautiful devices are monuments to humankind’s resolve to learn about the universe. [Source: Ann Finkbeiner, Smithsonian magazine, November 2010]

It’s unclear what practical applications will come from studying neutrinos. “We don’t know where it’s going to lead,” Boris Kayser, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, told Smithsonian magazine.” “Experimentalists began looking for it anyway,” Finkbeiner wrote. “At a nuclear weapons laboratory in South Carolina in the mid-1950s, they stationed two large water tanks outside a nuclear reactor that, according to their equations, should have been making ten trillion neutrinos a second. The detector was tiny by today’s standards, but it still managed to spot neutrinos — three an hour. The scientists had established that the proposed neutrino was in fact real; study of the elusive particle accelerated.”

“A decade later, the field scaled up when another group of physicists installed a detector in the Homestake gold mine, in Lead, South Dakota, 4,850 feet underground. In this experiment the scientists set out to observe neutrinos by monitoring what happens on the rare occasion when a neutrino collides with a chlorine atom and creates radioactive argon, which is readily detectable. At the core of the experiment was a tank filled with 600 tons of a chlorine-rich liquid, perchloroethylene, a fluid used in dry-cleaning. Every few months, the scientists would flush the tank and extract about 15 argon atoms, evidence of 15 neutrinos. The monitoring continued for more than 30 years.”

Neutrino Experiments in Japan and Antarctica

“Hoping to detect neutrinos in larger numbers, scientists in Japan led an experiment 3,300 feet underground in a zinc mine.” Ann Finkbeiner wrote in Smithsonian magazine. “Super-Kamiokande, or Super-K as it is known, began operating in 1996. The detector consists of 50,000 tons of water in a domed tank whose walls are covered with 13,000 light sensors. The sensors detect the occasional blue flash (too faint for our eyes to see) made when a neutrino collides with an atom in the water and creates an electron. And by tracing the exact path the electron traveled in the water, physicists could infer the source, in space, of the colliding neutrino. Most, they found, came from the sun. The measurements were sufficiently sensitive that Super-K could track the sun’s path across the sky and, from nearly a mile below the surface of the earth, watch day turn into night.” “It’s really an exciting thing,” says Janet Conrad, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The particle tracks can be compiled to create “a beautiful image, the picture of the sun in neutrinos.” [Source: Ann Finkbeiner, Smithsonian magazine, November 2010]

“But the Homestake and Super-K experiments didn’t detect as many neutrinos as physicists expected. Research at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO, pronounced “snow”) determined why. Installed in a 6,800-foot-deep nickel mine in Ontario, SNO contains 1,100 tons of “heavy water,” which has an unusual form of hydrogen that reacts relatively easily with neutrinos. The fluid is in a tank suspended inside a huge acrylic ball that is itself held inside a geodesic superstructure, which absorbs vibrations and on which are hung 9,456 light sensors — the whole thing looking like a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree ornament.”

“Scientists working at SNO discovered in 2001 that a neutrino can spontaneously switch among three different identities — or as physicists say, it oscillates among three flavors. The discovery had startling implications. For one thing, it showed that previous experiments had detected far fewer neutrinos than predicted because the instruments were tuned to just one neutrino flavor — the kind that creates an electron — and were missing the ones that switched. For another, the finding toppled physicists’ belief that a neutrino, like a photon, has no mass. (Oscillating among flavors is something that only particles with mass are able to do.)

How much mass do neutrinos have? To find out, physicists are building KATRIN — the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino Experiment. KATRIN’s business end boasts a 200-ton device called a spectrometer that will measure the mass of atoms before and after they decay radioactively — thereby revealing how much mass the neutrino carries off. Technicians built the spectrometer about 250 miles from Karlsruhe, Germany, where the experiment will operate.

Physicists and astronomers interested in the information that neutrinos from outer space might carry about supernovas or colliding galaxies have set up neutrino “telescopes.” One, called IceCube, is inside an ice field in Antarctica. When completed, in 2011, it will consist of more than 5,000 blue-light sensors. The sensors are aimed not at the sky, as you might expect, but toward the ground, to detect neutrinos from the sun and outer space that are coming through the planet from the north. The earth blocks cosmic rays, but most neutrinos zip through the 8,000-mile-wide planet as if it weren’t there.”

Discovery of Muon Neutrino

In June 2011, Kyodo reported, “an international group of researchers said it observed an indication of muon neutrinos' transformation into electron versions for the first time in the world, based on a precision experiment in Japan. Neutrinos, the smallest particles of matter that exist in the universe, come in three types -- muon, electron and tau -- and transform their types through oscillation. Detailed research into the transformation is expected to provide a clue to solving the mystery of how the universe was created.” [Source: Kyodo, June 15, 2011]

“The latest observation came after the other transformation patterns were detected by the University of Tokyo and others in Japan, demonstrating that Japan is a global leader in neutrino research. In the so-called T2K experiment between January 2010 and March this year, the group created muon neutrinos at the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex, or J-PARC, in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, and beamed them in the direction of the Super-Kamiokande particle detector in Hida, Gifu Prefecture, 295 kilometers away from J-PARC.”

“The Super-Kamiokande facility detected 88 neutrinos including six indicating the characteristics of electron neutrinos. The group then concluded that they had a 99.3 percent chance to include muon neutrinos that transformed into electron versions.The experiment has been suspended since the March 11 earthquake damaged J-PARC. The group, which comprises more than 500 researchers from 12 countries including some 80 from Japan, plans to resume the experiment next year.

Japanese Researchers Involved in the Faster-than-Light Neutrino Test

A team of Japanese and European scientists effectively withdrew test results that surprised the world last year with the claim that neutrinos traveled faster than light. The observed difference in the speeds between light and neutrinos is now believed to be within the margin of error, according to the team, called OPERA. The speed of neutrinos was almost the same as that of light, the team, which includes researchers from Nagoya University, told an international meeting of scientists in Kyoto. [Source: Jiji Press, June 9, 2012]

In September last year, the team said its experiment had shown that neutrinos, one of the most fundamental building blocks of all matter in the universe, traveled about 730 kilometers between the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva and a research facility in Italy 60 billionths of a second faster than light. The time taken between the two facilities was measured with the Global Positioning System and other technologies. The measurement test was conducted 15,000 times. The stunning claim was questioned by many scientists, as it contradicted Albert Einstein's theory of relativity that anything with mass cannot travel faster than light.

Japan's Bid to host the International Linear Collider (ILC)

Japan hopes to host the International Linear Collider (ILC), a huge scientific undertaking aimed at reproducing the conditions and matter created immediately after the big bang. In 2010, Japanese elementary particle physicists chose two candidate sites--the Kitakami mountain range in Iwate Prefecture and the Sefuri mountain area on the border of Fukuoka and Saga prefectures. Groups in the two areas, mainly local governments and universities, are conducting research on geological conditions there. [Source: Kyoko Takita, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 8, 2011]

The ILC project is designed to reproduce ultra-high energy matter that existed one-trillionth of a second after the Big Bang by colliding electrons and positrons at nearly the speed of light.The project plans to discover elementary particles, including Higgs bosun particles, which are believed to be keys to such fundamental questions as why materials have mass.

The tunnel will be 31 kilometers to 50 kilometers long and five meters in diameter. More than 16,000 superconducting acceleration cavities will be used to speed up the electrons and positrons before their collisions. The collision point will be in an area 40 meters high, 30 meters wide and 120 meters long. Two detecting machines, weighing about 15,000 tons each, will also be located there. It is a huge project that will take about 10 years and $10 billion yen to complete. Due to the size and expense, the project is a global effort to be built on an internationally agreed-upon site. Chicago, Geneva and the Russian city of Dubna may also bid to host the ILC.

At the end of 2012, technical designs for the proposed facilities based on each candidate site's topography, geography and other environmental factors will be completed. Because the host country will shoulder 50 percent of construction costs, the decision will be made through negotiations between the governments of candidate countries.Bid conditions include stipulations that the facility will not be affected by roads or railways, there are no active faults, and that there is a stable power supply. Debate to select candidate sites in Japan began in 2000, with more than 10 sites originally considered, but the Kitakami and Sefuri mountain areas won out because they are situated on solid granite bedrock.

Image Sources: 1) bigglobe.com 3) Hitachi 4) Yoshio Yamada

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013


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