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KU researchers part of group unlocking secrets of the 'top quark'

LAWRENCE -- Unlocking the secret of quarks, types of particles that reside inside protons, is a massive undertaking, but that's what 600 scientists from around the world are attempting to do in a laboratory 40 miles west of Chicago.

Four University of Kansas researchers are among a group studying the "top quark," a particle that might help scientists better understand the theories of mass and matter in our world as well as explain the earliest formation stages of the universe, among other atomic mysteries. Some of their research is being published in the June 10 edition of the journal Nature.

"We think the top quark may give us clues to a bunch of things," said Alice Bean, professor of physics and astronomy at KU. "We hope it can help us figure out why some objects around us have more mass than other objects."

The mass of the top quark is an important parameter in the theory of matter, said Philip Baringer, also a professor of physics and astronomy at KU.

"What does it mean for something to have mass?" he asked. "What's holding matter together? What's causing matter to behave the way it does? These are some of the questions the top quark can help us answer."

Quarks are fundamental particles, meaning they can't be broken down into smaller parts.

There are six types, or "flavors," of quarks, Bean said. Inside protons, there are "up" and "down" quarks. Other flavors of quarks have more mass and must be created in high-energy collisions. The top quark is like the up quark, but it has more mass. In fact, the top quark has the most mass of the six flavors.

Scientists started searching for the top quark in the late 1970s, Bean said, and they discovered it in 1995. The article in Nature describes the complex data analysis used to measure the mass of the top quark.

"At the earliest stages of the universe, there was a lot of energy in a small space," Baringer said. "By observing how the top quark behaves in the laboratory, we can better understand what rules and conditions governed the formation of the universe."

Beyond providing more knowledge of the universe's early beginnings, the top quark may help Bean, Baringer and their colleagues locate Higgs particles. Like quarks, Higgs particles, named for physicist Peter Higgs, who postulated their existence in the 1960s, may give all matter their mass. No one has ever seen a Higgs particle, but precise knowledge of the mass of the top quark can help narrow the areas to search for it, Bean said.

"We have to understand how nature works," Bean said. "The research on the top quark is the discovery stage. It will be up to someone else to figure out what to do with the information we find."

Along with Bean and Baringer, Don Coppage, postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy, and Christina Hebert, a 2003 doctoral graduate now at the University of Hawaii, are the other KU researchers who are authors on the Nature article.

The KU group has four postdoctoral researchers, two graduate students and three faculty members conducting further study on top quarks.

The actual research is taking place at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. The lab contains the world's highest-energy proton-antiproton collider. It's the only lab that allows scientists to study the top quark. The collider makes it possible to "break open" protons. The 600 scientists studying these collisions are called the DZero Collaboration.

Contact: , University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

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Aquifer's replenishment rate is low, says new Kansas Geological Survey report

LAWRENCE -- While much of western Kansas depends on the Ogallala aquifer for its water supply, a new report confirms that water naturally moves back into the aquifer at a rate of less than an inch per year.

The report is from the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas.

In fact, the average rate of recharge -- or natural movement of water back into an aquifer -- is a half-inch or less across 28 counties in western Kansas.

The new report is by Survey water scientist Marios Sophocleous, who has studied recharge across the High Plains of western Kansas for the past two decades.

Groundwater declines across western Kansas have averaged about one foot per year since 1980. Because recharge rates are so low across western Kansas, recharge does very little to stem those declines.

"To manage groundwater, we need to know how much water is removed from the aquifer and how much naturally moves back into the aquifer," said Sophocleous. "Without that, we really can't manage groundwater in a knowledgeable fashion."

In his study, Sophocleous examined both the theoretical models of recharge across the state and field studies that actually measured water as it moved underground. Previous theoretical models of recharge have shown that it ranges from a high of 8 inches per year in the southeastern corner of the state -- where average annual precipitation is high -- to less than 0.5 inches per year in western Kansas, where conditions are much more arid.

A field study done in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey in southwestern Kansas, however, showed that recharge to the Ogallala aquifer at two sites in irrigated fields in Finney County was less than a quarter of an inch per year, while recharge at a grassland in Morton County was less than a hundredth of an inch per year.

In addition to precipitation, other factors influence the movement of water back underground, including the type of soil at the surface, the depth to the aquifer (the deeper the aquifer, the less the recharge), land use and topography. The type of crops grown at the surface also affect recharge. Grassland allows less water to return to the aquifer than cultivated ground.

And irrigated ground has somewhat higher rates of recharge than dryland.

"But with irrigation, most of that recharge is coming from water that was removed from the aquifer to begin with," said Sophocleous. "More irrigation to increase recharge is not the answer to declining water levels."

In general, said Sophocleous, recharge in western Kansas is about 1 percent of average annual precipitation.

In addition to describing methods of estimating and measuring recharge, the new report discusses the process of recharge and analyzes the major recharge studies conducted in the Kansas High Plains.

"Understanding the rate of recharge is one of the most difficult factors in understanding groundwater resources," said Sophocleous. "But it is critical to the long-term management of our water."

Copies of Sophocleous' report, "Groundwater Recharge and Water Budgets of the Kansas High Plains and RelatedAquifers," are available from the Kansas Geological Survey, (785) 864-3965 or [email protected], for $20 plus $4 for shipping and handling. Kansas residents should add 7.3 percent sales tax to the entire order.

Contact: Marios Sophocleous, Kansas Geological Survey, (785) 864-2113.

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KU petroleum engineers help bring display to central Kansas museum

LAWRENCE -- The University of Kansas is giving schoolchildren who visit a Great Bend museum a view of oil collection 3,000 feet below ground.

The Tertiary Oil Recovery Project (TORP), based at the KU School of Engineering, has developed an interactive museum display for the Kansas Energy Education Center in Great Bend that demonstrates water flooding -- also called secondary recovery -- in an oil reservoir, said Richard Pancake, an engineer at TORP.

"It gives a three-dimensional perspective on how you bring the oil and water to the surface," Pancake said.

In primary oil recovery, oil producers allow natural reservoir pressure to push petroleum to the producing well. That process captures only 10 percent to 15 percent of the reservoir.

"With secondary recovery you inject water," he said. "The water will create an oil bank, and if you're lucky it will push an additional 10 to 15 percent of the oil to the well. You've basically doubled the life of the well."

As Kansas oil wells reach maturity, TORP's mission to develop new methods of recovering oil are becoming more critical to the Kansas oil and gas industry.

The museum display, built by TORP research assistant Scott Ramskill, lets museum visitors turn a crank that sets a miniature oil pump in motion. A cutaway view of the geological formation under the pump allows guests to see how the fluid is produced to the stock tanks on the surface.

The 1:24 scale display uses both new and recycled materials, Ramskill said. An old wooden desk rescued from the trash bin became the display frame after being re-cut and refinished. Recycled stainless steel fittings adorn the exhibit's hardware. Ramskill was able to construct the model in spare moments at work over the course of three months

"Once we got into it and it started coming together, we could see it was going to be nice," Pancake said.

Lawrence architect Cathy Clark created the artistic renderings of the geological rock formations found in central Kansas, with some guidance from Martin DuBois, a geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey, based at KU.

Ramskill is completing the display's finishing touches, which include creating a Plexiglas cover to protect the display's realistic fixtures and miniature signs for the Jayhawk Oil Co. Pancake hopes to deliver the display to Danny Biggs of the Kansas Energy Education Center by the end of May. Biggs was instrumental in getting TORP to provide the display, Pancake said.

"He wanted to expose local kids to all aspects of the energy business," he said.

Biggs asked TORP to develop a model "that would be something kids would find interesting and educational. He's a true advocate of the oil and gas industry," Pancake said.

The Tertiary Oil Recovery Project is sponsored by the State of Kansas to acquaint oil producers in the state with the technical and economic potential of enhanced recovery methods for Kansas fields.

Primary oil recovery (using existing reservoir energy) and secondary oil recovery (injection of water to force out oil) are able to remove approximately 30 percent of the total oil content of an oil reservoir. It is estimated that tertiary oil recovery techniques have the ability to remove an additional 5 percent to 20 percent of the oil remaining in the reservoir. Given the current world dependence on crude oil, the development of effective tertiary oil recovery strategies promises to have a significant economic impact.

In December 2003, TORP and the Kansas Geological Survey launched the most recent phase of oil recovery with a carbon dioxide flooding project near Russell. Though results won't be fully realized for several months, the project, if successful, could have a billion-dollar impact on the state's maturing oil fields.

KU offers the only petroleum engineering degree program in the state.

Contact: Jill Hummels, School of Engineering, (785) 864-2934.

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