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4/21/2015

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ByRebekahMarcarelli | r.marcarelli@hngn.com | Apr21,201503:31PMEDT

TabletopParticleDetectorCouldLeadToCovetedNeutrinoMass
Measurement
Scientistsdevelopedanewtabletopparticledetectorthatcanidentifysingleelectronsinradioactivegas.
Asthisgasdecaysitemitselectronsthatcanbetrappedbyamagneticbottle,andaradioantennacanpickoffsignalsgiven
offbythesecaptiveelectrons,MITreported.Thistechniquecanallowresearcherstomaptheelectrons'preciseactivityover
severalmilliseconds.
Thenovelmethodallowedaresearchteamtorecordtheactivityof100,000individualelectronsinkryptongas.Mostof
theseobservedelectronsbehavedinacharacteristicpatternasthegasdecaysitemitsvibratingelectronsthatslowlycalm
downbeforespikingagaininfrequencywhenhitwithmoregasatoms.Astheelectrons"pingpong"againstatomsinthe
detector,theirenergyprogressesinasteplikepattern.
"Wecanliterallyimagethefrequencyoftheelectron,andweseethiselectronsuddenlypopintoourradioantenna,"said
JoeFormaggio,anassociateprofessorofphysicsatMIT."Overtime,thefrequencychanges,andactuallychirpsup.So
theseelectronsarechirpinginradiowaves."
Themethodcouldhelpscientistsaccomplishanevengreaterfeatmeasuringthemassoftheelusiveneutrino.These
"ghostly"passthroughthebodyingroupsofbillionseverysecond,butareyettobeconcretelydetected.Scientistshaveset
theoreticallimitsonaneutrino'smass,butarestillfindingdifficultygainingmoreinsightintotheseparticles.
"Wehave[themass]cornered,buthaven'tmeasuredityet,"Formaggiosaid."Thenameofthegameistomeasurethe
energyofanelectronthat'syoursignaturethattellsyouabouttheneutrino."
Whenaradioactiveatomdecays,itturnsintoanisotopeofheliumandreleasesanelectronandaneutrinotheenergyofall
particlesaddsuptothetotalenergyoftheparentneutrino.Thismeansthatmeasuringtheenergyoftheelectroncanreveal
themassoftheneutrino.
Researchershopemeasureelectronsintheradioactiveatomtritiumusingamassivespectrometeraspartofanexperiment
namedKATRIN(KarlsruheTritiumNeutrinoExperiment).
"InKATRIN,theelectronsaredetectedinasilicondetector,whichmeanstheelectronssmashintothecrystal,andalotof
randomthingshappen,essentiallydestroyingtheelectrons,"saidDanielFurse,agraduatestudentinphysics,andaco
authoronthepaper."Westillwanttomeasuretheenergyofelectrons,butwedoitinanondestructiveway."
Thisnewsetupgivestheresearchersavaluableadvantagebecauseofitstinytabletopsize'incontrast,KATRIN's
spectrometercouldbarelyfitthroughacitystreet.Basedontheprecisionofmeasurementthedevicedemonstratedwith
kryptongas,thesamecouldbeachievedwithtritiumwithinthenexttwoyears,potentiallyresultinginanaccurate
measurementofthemassofaneutrino.
ThefindingswerepublishedinarecenteditionofthejournalPhysicalReviewLetters.

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