Neutrinos seen scattering off an atom's nucleus for the first time

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Neutrinos seen scattering off an atom's nucleus for the first time

Studying neutrinos could help scientists solve numerous mysteries of the universe, including why there's something rather than nothing. But that's what scientists from Oak Ridge National Lab are reporting today.

In the past, neutrino hunters have built enormous detectors to boost their chances of catching a glimpse of the particles - a necessity because the aloof particles interact so rarely.

That's why this new announcement from the COHERENT collaboration is so exciting: A group of scientists have managed to successfully detect neutrinos using an instrument no bigger than a thermos.

But detecting coherent elastic scattering is a little different from detecting other types of neutrino interactions, said Kate Scholberg, a professor of physics at Duke and spokesperson for the COHERENT collaboration. This accelerates a beam of protons and smashes them into a tank of mercury.

"We ignore many things about them". Indeed, it would have been far more revolutionary if physicists had somehow proved that coherent scattering didn't exist, Freedman says, as that would have meant that the bedrock rules of quantum mechanics were somehow wrong.

Mass is virtually all the particles have, and it probably isn't very much.

Nailing down their mass isn't trivial, but if it could be done it would be quite a prize.

Every second of every day, trillions of tiny particles called neutrinos are raining down on your head.

Knowing what those masses are could provide a clue on how the four fundamental forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and weak and strong nuclear force relate to one another. The most memorable aspect of the work?

For example, neutrinos can be captured by atoms, which then decay into another element. One is having a relatively low-energy neutrino, something that the Oak Ridge facility provides. The interaction, called "coherent scattering", was hypothesized over 40 years ago but never observed until now. Neutrinos are a special kind of particle that only interact with other particles via the weak nuclear force and gravity, both of which are incredibly hard to detect with our labs on Earth. This is consistent with predictions from the Standard Model of particles.

He had little hope that we'd ever measure this wobble, claiming, "Our suggestion may be an act of hubris, because the inevitable constraints of interaction rate, resolution, and background pose grave experimental difficulties".

Neutrino experiments like this one are a piece of a much larger puzzle. The process could be used to detect supernovas as well - if a supernova explodes nearby, scientists could spot its neutrinos scattering off nuclei in their detectors.

Additional support came from the DOE Office of Science, including an award from the office's Early Career Research Program; National Nuclear Security Administration Office of Defense, Nuclear Nonproliferation Research, and Development; LDRD programs of Lawrence Berkeley and Sandia National Laboratories; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory via the National Consortium for Measurement and Signature Intelligence Research Program and Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program; Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities; Institute for Basic Science (Korea); National Science Foundation (USA); Russian Foundation for Basic Research; Russian Science Foundation in the framework of MEPhI Academic Excellence Project; Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory; University of Washington Royalty Research Fund; and resources of the Spallation Neutron Source and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, which are DOE Office of Science User Facilities at ORNL.

Physicist Juan Collar of the University of Chicago led the design of the detector used at SNS, a cesium iodide scintillator crystal doped with sodium to increase the prominence of light signals from neutrino interactions. But it also makes for a smaller target.

"Imagine your neutrinos are ping-pong balls striking a bowling ball". The detector weighs a mere 14.5 kilograms (32 pounds) and is roughly same size and shape of a rather large (and pretty heavy) wine bottle. "They are arguably the most pedestrian kind of radiation detector available, having been around for a century".

Green: Our goal was to detect for the first time a process called Coherent Elastic Neutrino Nuclear Scattering (CEvNS), in which a neutrino collides with an atomic nucleus and if the conditions are right (the neutrino's energy is low enough) the neutrino interacts with the entire nucleus at once instead of a single proton or neutron in the nucleus.

They could also shed some light on the dark matter making up 85 percent of the Universe's material.

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