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Proton Decay Experiment On The Brink Of Extinction

The Proton Refuses To Decay, But Physicists’Funds Are Fading Fast Two thousand feet under the shores of Lake Erie, in a six-story salt cavern, one of the most sophisticated light detectors ever constructed is waiting. Every second, several particles speed through the instrument’s enormous pool of water and collide with atoms in it, setting off flashes of light to be detected and recorded. But these events are merely physics’ flotsam and jetsam—things to be identified, c

Robert Crease

The Proton Refuses To Decay, But Physicists’Funds Are Fading Fast
Two thousand feet under the shores of Lake Erie, in a six-story salt cavern, one of the most sophisticated light detectors ever constructed is waiting. Every second, several particles speed through the instrument’s enormous pool of water and collide with atoms in it, setting off flashes of light to be detected and recorded. But these events are merely physics’ flotsam and jetsam—things to be identified, cataloged, and forgotten.

The detector and the scientists who tend its humming pumps are waiting for bigger game. They look for special flashes of light that would answer one of the most fundamental questions in physics and bring them fame, glory, and probably the Nobel Prize. They are waiting for a proton to fall apart.

Today, however, the proton is likely to outlast their expensive project. Seven years after it was switched on in a...

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