A New Year’s Address
This year is an important year when the Kamioka Observatory faces a big turning point in research: the start of a long baseline neutrino oscillation experiment in which Super-Kamiokande detects man-made neutrinos generated in a large proton accelerator complex at Tokai (JPARC), 295km away from Kamioka. The experiment aims at the discovery of the `last neutrino oscillation,` where muon neutrinos change to electron neutrinos, by using a muon neutrino beam that is 50 times more intense than that of the K2K experiment run from 1999~2004. This year we take the first step, though it may take a few years to discover the last oscillation. This discovery is important in developing future research into the origin of matter in the universe.
The XMASS dark matter search experiment will soon start data-taking. The XMASS detector is currently under construction, but will be completed in the coming spring. XMASS will detect dark matter in the universe using liquid Xenon. There exists 5~6 times more dark matter in the universe than ordinary matter, and dark matter is expected to be a new elementary particle as yet observed. The sensitivity of the XMASS detector is 100 times better than other dark matter search experiments done so far. We expect direct detection and discovery of dark matter.
The R&D work to improve Super-Kamiokande is moving ahead. By adding Gadolinium to Super-Kamiokande, neutrons which are difficult to detect in the current configuration will be observed clearly. Neutrinos from past supernovae explosions accumulate in the universe and carry information about star formation in the Universe. The sensitivity of Super-K to these neutrinos is greatly improved by identifying the neutrons. In addition, the sensitivity of proton decay searches is also increased.
The R&D of a large water Cherenkov detector, which is 20 times bigger than Super-K, will start soon.
At Kamioka, young researchers are leading and promoting these projects. Many collaborators from Japan and foreign countries are conducting their research. Your continuous support of Kamioka experiments and basic science is very much appreciated. We would also like to have many opportunities to explain our results to many people in this year.
Last year, the new government reevaluated the budget; the budget for basic science was no exception. The Working Group under the Government Revitalization Unit decided to cut the `Special grants for education and research,` which includes the budget of Kamioka experiments, so we were worried about how we could run the experiments in the next fiscal year. On January 7, MEXT showed us that the budget of Super-Kamiokande will not be reduced and we will be able to continue the observation as before.
We have received many messages of support and encouragement. 1,400 comments were sent to MEXT as public comments for the budget of the Japanese National Universities and 97% were opposed to the decision of reduction for the `Special grants for education and research.` We wish to express our deep gratitude to those who support us.
This was an opportunity for us to revisit our thoughts about the importance of our research and the meaning of spending taxes for basic research.
We are sometimes asked if our research is useful to society. Of course we can say how our research plays an important role in our life. The highly sensitive photo sensor and the high-purity welding method were developed from the R&D work for our research. Also, looking back in history, quantum mechanics, which is the basic theory of nuclear and particle physics that was established around 1925, is now essential to the understanding of semiconductors. The GPS system, which is familiar to car navigation systems, needs a small correction from the general theory of relativity established by Einstein in 1915. In the long run, basic science is useful to many fields. However, if we put too much emphasis on the `usefulness of the science,` the meaning of science may be distorted. The origin of the word `science` is `scientia` in Latin, which means `to know.` Science is to try to find an answer to our curiosity or basic questions of nature and to understand our universe; how the universe was formed, why we exist, and what matter is made from. From these quests, `knowledge` is accumulated in our society and `a systematic knowledge` has been developed. The bases of intellectual activities, common knowledge, and the wisdom of mankind have also been cultivated. From these kinds of points, over a long period of time, the real usefulness to our life emerges from basic science. However, I would like to stress again that the meaning of research is to understand what is not yet understood.
But the self-satisfied “search for truth” may not be convincing to people if it spends too much money. The importance of `useless` science must be widely recognized in society. Researchers have a responsibility to explain their results and the meaning of the science to society. It may be a good measure of the maturity of a society if it makes an investment in things that may seem to be useless and unnecessary in the short term. A society which values such `useless` things may be actually comfortable for human beings and worthwhile living.
We understand that “politics” decides how much money will be spent for science. However, the investment in science should be decided by considering the results of basic science as fundamental properties of all mankind and from a long-term point of view, not by short-term results.
Thank you for your continued understanding and support of basic science.
Director, Kamioka Observatory, Institute of Cosmic Ray Research, University of Tokyo
January 7, 2010