2014 will be an important year for the particle experiment I work on, called NA62. The experiment, located at CERN and using a proton beam from the SPS accelerator, will come to life. After several years of preparation and construction, a search for the rarest decays of the charged kaons (particles containing the strange quark) will finally begin. Such processes open a new window on the so-called New Physics, i.e. particle processes never seen before. There are reasons to believe the New Physics must exist; for example, astronomical measurements indicate that most of the mass of the Universe is in the form of Dark Matter and we don’t know what this is. The idea is that it can be due to new particles that can be discovered and studied in processes like the one I investigate.
I lead the NA62-UK team, that is responsible for the detector identifying kaons among the other particles in the beam. The Birmingham group has built, tested and installed the readout system, that must record and recognise kaons with a record speed and precision. My group and I are also leading several analyses, including searches for processes forbidden by the current theoretical understanding, such as decays in which the conservation of the number and type of electrons and muons is violated.
The physics of elementary particles ultimately underlies everything we know and experience, and this is why I find it so fascinating. As well as being busy with NA62, I enjoy communicating the excitement of particle physics to the public. I am an STFC Public Engagement Fellow, and am working towards an exhibit and activities for the British Science Festival here at the University of Birmingham in September 2014.
Dr Cristina Lazzeroni is Reader in Particle Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy