Will plastics help unlock the secrets of the origin of the universe? That's a real possibility, according to Kiyo Nishikawa, marketing director for Reynolds Polymer Technology Inc. of Grand Junction, Colo. Reynolds, a manufacturer of cast acrylic tubes, rods and panels used in aquariums, has been contracted to produce a 40-foot-diameter, transparent acrylic sphere for the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Walden, Ontario. SNO is a joint scientific research project funded by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, according to Reynolds.
The acrylic sphere, consisting of 120 panels bonded together, will be constructed 1.25 miles underground while suspended in the world's largest cavity excavated at such a depth. The sphere then will be filled with 1,000 tons of heavy water - deuterium oxide - that was loaned to the project by the Canadian government and is valued at $300 million. It will be used to detect the presence of neutrinos, an elementary particle produced in the basic fusion process that powers the sun.
Neutrinos pervade the universe, Nishikawa said. Recently, experiments have recorded too few neutrinos coming from the sun and physicists are unable to explain why. As the neutrinos pass through the heavy water at SNO's project, they produce a tiny flash of light that will help physicists determine the number of neutrinos present.
``The findings may help us conclude whether our universe will continue to expand or eventually collapse under its own gravitational attraction to die in what astronomers refer to as the `big crunch' theory,'' he said.
Reynolds and SNO researchers recently completed construction of a bonded, 15-foot by 20-foot, 3,700-pound acrylic wall - representing about 7 percent of the finished sphere. The project is scheduled for completion in April 1996, after 11 years of work by some 70 scientists and engineers from three countries.
``For RPT it will truly be the ultimate test of our ability to produce, cut, bond and assemble acrylic panels under the most difficult conditions imaginable,'' Nishikawa said.
Reynolds, a leader in the production of large, multifloor aquarium tanks and underwater tunnels that simulate a feeling of immersion for viewers, also produces acrylic domes, spheres and cylinders for pressure vessels for human occupancy and medical hyperbaric chambers.