Physicists at the University of Oxford have co-developed a free smartphone app to help teach the general public about high-energy particle physics by letting them play games to detect three-dimensional neutrino particles in both virtual reality and augmented reality.
The VENu app, available on both iOS and Android, consists of data from the MicroBooNE Experiment, which is a long-running collaboration by 150 scientists from 28 institutions in five countries.
The experiment focuses on using a particle accelerator to make neutrino particles so that scientists can study them using a special liquid argon particle detector. Neutrino particles are subatomic, almost weightless particles that only rarely interact, and are incredibly difficult to capture.
Nevertheless, neutrino particles are considered to be a fundamental building block of matter that carry no electric charge and are able to travel through the universe almost entirely unaffected by natural forces, which is fascinating to scientists.
Thankfully, the particle detector at the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois is now able to record neutrino interactions, which means that scientists can learn more about them.
To help the general public understand more about particle physics, Oxford's researchers have developed an app together with six other institutions including New Mexico State University, Bradley University, Yale University, Illinois Math and Science Academy, University of Chicago and Fermilab.
The app explains neutrinos and enables users to play games to try to catch the particles in augmented reality and virtual reality using a smartphone paired with any consumer VR headset or Google Cardboard.
And in future, the scientists hope that people all over the world can help the MicroBooNE Experiment by analysing real data in the app once they know how to recognise neutrino interactions.
Marco Del Tutto, a DPhil student at the University of Oxford's particle physics department working on the MicroBooNE Experiment, says that particle physics is currently in vogue, thanks to the Physics Nobel Prize-winning discovery in 2015 of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.
"While knowing that neutrinos are massive is a groundbreaking discovery, we still do not know how much they weigh. In addition, we can't even explain completely how neutrinos, originally thought to be massless in the well-established Standard Model, acquire their mass," Tutto told IBTimes UK.
"There are many other open questions about neutrinos, such as 'are there new types of neutrinos?', 'Could neutrino provide an answer to the long-lasting puzzle of why the Universe is composed of matter instead of anti-matter?', or 'Are neutrinos and anti-neutrinos the same particle?' For the first time, physicists have a chance at answering many of these questions with brand new detectors, such as MicroBooNE. These are very exciting times for neutrinos."