Nobel laureate Professor Samuel C. C. Ting has been chosen to direct a major scientific experiment that will fly on the space shuttle and later on the International Space Station.
NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) signed an agreement September 20 to conduct the experiment and have the research team led by Dr. Ting, whose research is supported by MIT's Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Dr. Ting, professor of physics and Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor, shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1976 with MIT alumnus Burton Richter of Stanford for discovering the J/Psi particle, a heavy elementary particle.
The DOE-sponsored experiment will look for antimatter originating from outside our galaxy and also may lead to the scientific discovery of dark matter, the mysterious, still-undiscovered material that scientists believe makes up 90 percent or more of the universe.
"The enthusiastic cooperation from NASA has helped to make this physics research in space possible," said Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary. "This pioneering experiment holds the promise of delivering a better understanding of our universe."
"I'm thrilled that this experiment has been selected to fly on the space station," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "I've always said that the Space station will be an orbiting laboratory capable of conducting world-class science, and the addition of an experiment whose science team is led by a Nobel laureate is one more step in realizing the full potential of the Space station."
Robert J. Birgeneau, dean of MIT's School of Science, said, "After a brilliant career in elementary particle physics, Sam Ting is now applying his exceptional talents to the most fundamental problems in cosmology and astrophysics. I am certain that exciting and, in all likelihood, entirely unanticipated new science will emerge from AMS experiment."
"We are very excited about the scientific opportunities that this project presents," sais Robert P. Redwine, director of MIT's Laboratory of Nuclear Science. "The experiment will address some of the most important questions in science today. In fact, the involvement of both particle physics and space physics recalls the beginnings of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, when the study of cosmic rays formed a major part of the program of the Laboratory."
The experiment is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). AMS will use the unique environment of space to study the properties and origin of cosmic particles and nuclei including antimatter and dark matter. Discovering the presence of either material will increase scientists' understanding of the early universe and could potentially lead to a clearer understanding of the actual origin of the universe and to the discovery of antimatter stars and galaxies.
Professor Claude Canizares, director of the Center for Space Research, said, "There have been very few fundamental physics experiments in the space program, so Professor Ting's AMS is particularly important in expanding the scope of the space sciences for NASA and, of course, for MIT. It should also be noted that the large number of countries participating in AMS will make it more international in scope than even the Internationl Space Station Alpha, on which it will fly."
The AMS experiment is an international collaboration of some 37 universities and laboratories. AMS will be the first large magnet experiment ever placed in Earth orbit. NASA plans to fly AMS initially as a space shuttle payload on the STS-90 mission in April 1998. This flight will provide the investigating team with data on background sources and verify the detector's performance under actual space flight conditions. The detector will operate for approximately 100 hours during this mission.
The detector's second space flight will occur when it is launched on space shuttle mission STS-110 in 2001 for installation on the Space station as an attached payload. Current plans call for operating the detector for three years before it is returned to Earth on the Shuttle.
Using the Space station offers the science team the opportunity to conduct the long-duration research above the Earth's atmosphere necessary to collect sufficient data required to accomplish the science objectives.
NASA Associate Administrator Harry Holloway and DOE's Director of Energy Research Martha Krebs signed the interagency agreement in a ceremony in Washington, DC, on September 20.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 1995.