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  • 2018-04-06 16:05:33
  • Article ID: 692390

Neutrino Experiment at Fermilab Delivers an Unprecedented Measurement

MiniBooNE scientists demonstrate a new way to probe the nucleus with muon neutrinos.

  • Credit: Photo: Reidar Hahn

    This interior view of the MiniBooNE detector tank shows the array of photodetectors used to pick up the light particles that are created when a neutrino interacts with a nucleus inside the tank.

Tiny particles known as neutrinos are an excellent tool to study the inner workings of atomic nuclei. Unlike electrons or protons, neutrinos have no electric charge, and they interact with an atom’s core only via the weak nuclear force. This makes them a unique tool for probing the building blocks of matter. But the challenge is that neutrinos are hard to produce and detect, and it is very difficult to determine the energy that a neutrino has when it hits an atom.

This week a group of scientists working on the MiniBooNE experiment at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab reported a breakthrough: They were able to identify exactly-known-energy muon neutrinos hitting the atoms at the heart of their particle detector. The result eliminates a major source of uncertainty when testing theoretical models of neutrino interactions and neutrino oscillations.

“The issue of neutrino energy is so important,” said Joshua Spitz, assistant professor at the University of Michigan and co-leader of the team that made the discovery, along with Joseph Grange at Argonne National Laboratory. “It is extraordinarily rare to know the energy of a neutrino and how much energy it transfers to the target atom. For neutrino-based studies of nuclei, this is the first time it has been achieved.”

To learn more about nuclei, physicists shoot particles at atoms and measure how they collide and scatter. If the energy of a particle is sufficiently large, a nucleus hit by the particle can break apart and reveal information about the subatomic forces that bind the nucleus together.

But to get the most accurate measurements, scientists need to know the exact energy of the particle breaking up the atom. That, however, is almost never possible when doing experiments with neutrinos.

Like other muon neutrino experiments, MiniBooNE uses a beam that comprises muon neutrinos with a range of energies. Since neutrinos have no electric charge, scientists have no “filter” that allows them to select neutrinos with a specific energy.

MiniBooNE scientists, however, came up with a clever way to identify the energy of a subset of the muon neutrinos hitting their detector. They realized that their experiment receives some muon neutrinos that have the exact energy of 236 million electronvolts (MeV). These neutrinos stem from the decay of kaons at rest about 86 meters from the MiniBooNE detector emerging from the aluminum core of the particle absorber of the NuMI beamline, which was built for other experiments at Fermilab.

Energetic kaons decay into muon neutrinos with a range of energies. The trick is to identify muon neutrinos that emerge from the decay of kaons at rest. Conservation of energy and momentum then require that all muon neutrinos emerging from the kaon-at-rest decay have to have exactly the energy of 236 MeV.

“It is not often in neutrino physics that you know the energy of the incoming neutrino,” said MiniBooNE co-spokesperson Richard Van De Water of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “With the first observation by MiniBooNE of monoenergetic muon neutrinos from kaon decay, we can study the charged current interactions with a known probe that enable theorists to improve their cross section models. This is important work for the future short- and long-baseline neutrino programs at Fermilab.”

This analysis was conducted with data collected from 2009 to 2011.

“The result is notable,” said Rex Tayloe, co-spokesperson of the MiniBooNE collaboration and professor of physics at Indiana University Bloomington. “We were able to extract this result because of the well-understood MiniBooNE detector and our previous careful studies of neutrino interactions over 15 years of data collection.”

Spitz and his colleagues already are working on the next monoenergetic neutrino result. A second neutrino detector located near MiniBooNE, called MicroBooNE, also receives muon neutrinos from the NuMI absorber, 102 meters away. Since MicroBooNE uses liquid-argon technology to record neutrino interactions, Spitz is optimistic that the MicroBooNE data will provide even more information.

“MicroBooNE will provide more precise measurements of this known-energy neutrino,” he said. “The results will be extremely valuable for future neutrino oscillation experiments.”

The MiniBooNE result was published in the April 6, 2018, issue of Physical Review Letters. This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. 

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New Testing of Model Improves Confidence in the Performance of ITER

Article describes effect of ion and electron heating on multiscale turbulence in fusion plasmas.

Study Recommends Strong Role for National Labs in 'Second Laser Revolution'

A new study calls for the U.S. to step up its laser R&D efforts to better compete with major overseas efforts to build large, high-power laser systems, and notes progress and milestones at the Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center and other sites.

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Battery's Hidden Layer Revealed

An international team led by Argonne National Laboratory makes breakthrough in understanding the chemistry of the microscopically thin layer that forms between the liquid electrolyte and solid electrode in lithium-ion batteries. The results are being used in improving the layer and better predicting battery lifetime.

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A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester have provided the first experimentally based mass-radius relationship for a hypothetical pure iron planet at super-Earth core conditions. This discovery can be used to evaluate plausible compositional space for large, rocky exoplanets, forming the basis of future planetary interior models, which in turn can be used to more accurately interpret observation data from the Kepler space mission and aid in identifying planets suitable for habitability.

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Magnesium ions move very fast to enable a new class of battery materials.

Valleytronics Discovery Could Extend Limits of Moore's Law

Research appearing today in Nature Communications finds useful new information-handling potential in samples of tin(II) sulfide (SnS), a candidate "valleytronics" transistor material that might one day enable chipmakers to pack more computing power onto microchips. 

Scientists Use Machine Learning to Speed Discovery of Metallic Glass

SLAC and its collaborators are transforming the way new materials are discovered. In a new report, they combine artificial intelligence and accelerated experiments to discover potential alternatives to steel in a fraction of the time.


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Five Leading Liberal Arts Colleges Partner to Create New Solar Energy Facility in Maine

Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Smith and Williams colleges have formed a partnership that will allow them to offset 46,000 megawatt hours per year of their collective electrical needs--enough to power 5,000 New England homes--with electricity created at a solar power facility to be built in Maine.

Argonne Selects Innovators From Across Nation to Grow Startups

Argonne announces second cohort of Chain Reaction Innovations.

Brookhaven Lab Materials Physicist Yimei Zhu Receives 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America

How do complex atomic and electronic interactions impact material properties? Using electron microscopy instrumentation and methods he developed, Yimei Zhu has been investigating this question for the past 30 years. The Microscopy Society of America is now recognizing his contributions.

SLAC Produces First Electron Beam with Superconducting Electron Gun

Accelerator scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are testing a new type of electron gun for a future generation of instruments that take snapshots of the atomic world in never-before-seen quality and detail, with applications in chemistry, biology, energy and materials science.

U.S., India Sign Agreement Providing for Neutrino Physics Collaboration at Fermilab and in India

Earlier today, April 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and India's Atomic Energy Secretary Dr. Sekhar Basu signed an agreement in New Delhi to expand the two countries' collaboration on world-leading science and technology projects. It opens the way for jointly advancing cutting-edge neutrino science projects under way in both countries: the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) with the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) hosted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab and the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO).

Nanomaterials Expert Ganpati Ramanath Named Fellow of Materials Research Society

Nanomaterials expert Ganpati Ramanath, the John Tod Horton '52 Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named a fellow of the Materials Research Society (MRS) "for developing creative approaches to realize new nanomaterials via chemically directed nanostructure synthesis and assembly and for tailoring interfaces in electronics and energy applications using molecular nanolayers."

Doing the Neutron Dance

Two materials scientists, Suzanne te Velthuis and Stephan Rosenkranz, have been named fellows of the Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA).

Hirohisa Tanaka Joins SLAC to Push Limits of Neutrino Physics

Accomplished neutrino physicist Hirohisa Tanaka has joined the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory as a professor of particle physics and astrophysics. He oversees a group at the lab that is preparing for research with the future Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF). The experiment will give scientists unprecedented opportunities to learn more about neutrinos - fundamental particles with mysterious properties that could play crucial roles in the evolution of the universe.

University Teams to Compete in Department of Energy's 2018 National Cyber Defense Competition

The U.S. Department of Energy is proud to announce the 29 university teams selected to compete in the third annual Cyber Defense Competition (CDC), taking place April 6-7, 2018.


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Getting Magnesium Ions to Pick Up the Pace

Magnesium ions move very fast to enable a new class of battery materials.

Seeing How Next-Generation Batteries Power-Up

Scientists directly see how the atoms in a magnesium-based battery fit into the structure of electrodes.

Worm-Inspired Tough Materials

Scientists mimic a worm's lethal jaw to design and form resilient materials.

How to Turn Light Into Atomic Vibrations

Converting laser light into nuclear vibrations is key to switching a material's properties on and off for future electronics.

Superacids Are Good Medicine for Super Thin Semiconductors

Scientists demonstrated that powerful acids heal certain structural defects in synthetic films.

Tubular Science Improves Polymer Solar Cells

Novel engineered polymers assemble buckyballs into columns using a conventional coating process.

Fast! Hard X-Ray Flash Breaks Speed Record

Lasting just a few hundred billionths of a billionth of a second, these bursts offer new tool to study chemistry and magnetism.

Scientists Have Overestimated Meteor Sizes

First demonstration of high-pressure metastability mapping with ultrafast X-ray diffraction shows objects aren't as large as previously thought.

Rewriting Resistance: Genetic Changes Increase Crops' Biomass and Sugar Release

Using genetic engineering, scientists improve biomass growth and conversion in woody and grassy feedstocks.

Measuring the Glow of Plants From Below

Novel observations suggest a great potential of measuring global gross primary production via solar-induced fluorescence.


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