What did the Ancient Romans do for us? Well other than the from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health it seems they are now helping with scientific experiments into neutrinos.
The Italian press, which is descended from a fat bloke walking around the streets shouting the news, is reporting how four tonnes of ancient Roman lead was yesterday transferred from a museum on the Italian island of Sardinia to the country’s national particle physics laboratory at Gran Sasso on the mainland.
The lead was supposed to become water pipes, coins or end up in roofing, however it will instead form part of a cutting-edge experiment to nail down the mass of neutrinos.
The 120 lead ingots, each weighing about 33 kilograms, were found 20 years ago from a Roman shipwreck.
Not surprisingly the ship sank like a stone between 80 BC and 50BC off the coast of Sardinia.
The boffins are interested in the fact that over the past 2,000 years their lead has almost completely lost its natural radioactivity. This makes it the perfect material with which to shield the CUORE (Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events) detector, which Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) is building at the Gran Sasso laboratory.
CUORE, which will begin operations next year, will investigate neutrinos which are the basic particles with no electronic charge. Boffins have worked out that Neutrino’s have a mass but can’t work out how much.
The aim is to use the detector to try to observe a theoretical atomic event called neutrinoless double-beta decay — a radioactive process whereby an atomic nucleus releases two electrons and no neutrinos.
To successfully observe this , they will need to shield their experiment from external radioactivity.
Lead is a shield against radiation, but freshly mined lead is itself slightly radioactive because it contains an unstable isotope, lead-210. But after 2,000 years in the Mare, the lead in the Roman ingots has now lost almost all traces of its radioactivity.