UK universities enter next-gen international physics experiment

UK universities supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will advance pioneering research into physics’ biggest questions.

The Matter-wave Atomic Gradiometer Interferometric Sensor (MAGIS-100) experiment is led by, and currently under construction at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab).

In a new agreement, the UK has agreed to provide vital expertise and support to help the experiment probe the mysteries of quantum physics, dark matter and more.

Ingenious research methods

MAGIS-100 is an ‘atom interferometry experiment’ that will be mounted in a vertical access shaft at Fermilab.

Scientists will cool strontium atoms to close to absolute zero temperature and drop them down a 100-metre-long tube.

The atoms will pass through laser light that will cause them to move at two different velocities simultaneously.

The team will then measure and compare signals from different atoms to examine things such as their atomic superpositions and deviations that could be caused by elusive dark-matter particles interacting with the atoms.

Scientists hope that the research will also lay the foundation for future gravitational wave detectors and research by pioneering advanced sensor technology.

Collaborative scientific approach

Dr Lia Merminga, Director of Fermilab, said:

It is exciting to see us expand our long and celebrated partnerships with UK institutions to new scientific domains, with the highly innovative MAGIS-100 experiment.

Our UK partners participate in the design, construction and delivery of the detection system for the interferometer and will also participate in the commissioning and data analysis of the experiment.

Crucial UK support

Through the signing of this latest agreement, four UK universities supported by STFC have formalised their commitment to cooperative research and development of the experiment.

They are:

  • University of Liverpool
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford

Universities working on the Atom Interferometer Observatory and Network (AION), a flagship UK initiative to use cold-atom interferometry for fundamental science, have been involved in MAGIS-100 from the beginning.

AION collaborators are working with US universities to develop several optics components for MAGIS-100.

They are providing the cameras that will record interference patterns of fluorescent light emitted by strontium atoms hit by laser light as well as critical optical components and data systems.

Exciting future discoveries

Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of STFC, said:

This initiative is an exciting opportunity, both for the U.K. and the U.S., to collaborate in new technologies for fundamental science.

There is huge potential in applying quantum technologies to our scientific mission to uncover the secrets of the universe.

Tomorrow’s leading researchers

Ian Shipsey, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford said:

The MAGIS and AION projects are attracting a whole new generation of young people from across the U.S. and U.K. to fundamental science.

The training these projects provide in advanced particle physics instrumentation and quantum technologies equips them to be leaders and innovators in research, education, and the high-tech and quantum economies of both nations.

Top image:  Fermilab Director Lia Merminga and Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of STFC, UK Research and Innovation, sign a certificate to commemorate the international cooperative research and development (R&D) agreement. The agreement fortifies R&D and experimental activities among Fermilab and UK institutions for the MAGIS-100 experiment. Credit: Ryan Postel, Fermilab

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