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posted by janrinok on Tuesday April 02, @08:38PM   Printer-friendly

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

Neutrinos and antineutrinos are nearly massless particles produced in many nuclear reactions, including the fission of uranium in nuclear power plants on Earth and the fusion reactions at the core of the sun.

But they are devilishly hard to detect—most pass through Earth without stopping—making it difficult to study the nuclear reactions taking place at the core of stars or in stellar explosions or to monitor nuclear power plants for illicit production of bomb material.

A new type of neutrino detector now being tested in a vast underground lab at the University of California, Berkeley, is designed to leverage the latest technologies to enhance the sensitivity and capabilities of antineutrino detectors. Such improved detectors would not only help detect, localize and characterize undeclared special nuclear material being used contrary to federal or international regulations, but also help scientists explore the fundamental physics of particles and their interactions deep in the nucleus of the atom.

Called Eos, for the Titan goddess of dawn, the apparatus signals "the dawn of a new era of neutrino detection technology," according to Gabriel Orebi Gann, a UC Berkeley associate professor of physics and the leader of the Eos collaboration.

The prototype detector may detect and characterize nuclear activities and materials remotely, that is, at distances greater than about 100 meters. While radioactivity from nuclear material can be shielded from detection, antineutrinos produced in fission reactions cannot. Because billions are produced in a reactor each nanosecond, Eos should be able to detect enough antineutrinos to identify clandestine production of bomb-grade material.

"The idea of neutrino detection is you can't spoof it, you can't shield it, you can't fake it. Neutrinos travel at almost the speed of light, so they provide near-instantaneous detection, even at distance. They offer a unique signature of nuclear activity," said Orebi Gann, who is also a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

"If you're either a long way away or you've got a very weak signature, then you need a big detector. And for a big detector, you need liquid."

Eos is a 10-meter-tall, 5-meter-wide cylinder filled with water and an organic scintillator and surrounded by light detectors three times more sensitive than those used in physics experiments today. Eos's improved sensitivity and higher resolution come from combining two of today's best techniques for detecting neutrinos: scintillation and Cherenkov emission.

The improvements could be a game-changer for future neutrino physics projects, such as the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) now being constructed in an abandoned gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, to detect neutrinos emitted by a particle accelerator at Fermi National Laboratory, 500 miles away in Illinois. UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab are members of the DUNE collaboration.

"What we would ultimately like to build is a much bigger detector called Theia," she said. "Theia is the Titan goddess of light and Eos's mother in the pantheon of gods. The ideal location for Theia is in that mine in South Dakota, seeing those neutrinos from Fermilab."

It remains to be seen whether Theia—which would employ a tank large enough to nearly swallow the Statue of Liberty—will replace one of DUNE's four planned liquid argon "far" detectors.


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by nostyle on Wednesday April 03, @03:24PM

    by nostyle (11497) on Wednesday April 03, @03:24PM (#1351496) Journal

    Ya gotta love neutrinos [wikipedia.org].

    We've suspected their existence for less than 100 years now.

    We don't know with any certainty their
    -mass
    -velocity
    -flavor (and oscillation thereof)
    -chirality

    Hell - it is even possible that they are their own anti-particle. Nobody knows for sure.

    It's a miracle we can even detect them at all - and don't expect a pocket-sized detector any time soon.

    So "Technobabble" - sure. It's what we do when we discover things we never knew before - we invent language to encapsulate the newly revealed reality into conceptual bits. We still have a long way to go with neutrinos, and the babble will likely get worse before it gets better.

    --
    "Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup" -The Beatles, Across the Universe

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