October 3, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- IUB Professor of Physics Mike Snow has won one of two awards for the 2014 NIST Precision Measurement Grant Competition. The award will support a project to perform absolute neutron flux measurements needed for precision measurement of the lifetime of the neutron. The scientific interest in precision measurements of the neutron lifetime is due to its direct influence on the amount of helium produced in the Big Bang. The Big Bang Theory makes a precise prediction for the relative amounts of hydrogen and helium in the early universe before stars started to form. Work by many members of the IU astronomy department has also been devoted to this general topic. IUB Associate Professor of Physics Chen-Yu Liu is leading a different experimental effort to also measure the neutron lifetime with high precision using a magneto-gravitational trap constructed at CEEM.
No faculty member from Indiana University has ever won this competition since its inception in 1970 until this year. However it is interesting to note that one of the award winners of the competition when it was first started in 1970 was an IUB alumnus: James Faller, who was an IU undergraduate major of physics in the 1960s before going to Princeton for his PhD work. Faller later played a major role in the decision to put "corner cubes" on the Moon: decades later these cubes were used to make extremely precise measurements of the Earth-Moon distance good enough to conduct a powerful test Einstein's ideas of curved spacetime. Faller also conducted some of the most sensitive experiments to measure Newton's famous gravitational constant G.