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Helicity of Neutrinos

a presentation on the experiment performed by


Maurice Goldhaber, Lee Grodzins, and Andrew W.
Sunyar

Michael J. Kossin
University of Washington,
CENPA

Experiment overview

Experiment overview
The circular polarization of gamma rays resulting from a
certain nuclear decay process, combined with the
requirement that angular momentum is conserved,
shows the helicity of neutrinos ejected during the same
process.

What is helicity and what is


special about it?

What is helicity and what is


special about it?

The commutator between linear momentum and orbital


angular momentum:

What is helicity and what is


special about it?
Similarly,

In summary,

What is helicity and what is


special about it?
We
use this in the generalized uncertainty principle:

So a particle with distinct momentum has no definite


orbital angular momentum except in the direction of
linear momentum, which is 0.

What is helicity and what is


special about it?
But
lets look at angular momentum . The commutator of spin with a
momentum operator is 0, so the uncertainty relation is the same as
before:

So as we saw before, if we have definite linear momentum, we only


have definite angular momentum in the direction of the momentum.
Again, orbital angular momentum vanishes, and we are left with the
projection of spin onto the momentum direction, as the only
definite quantity related to angular momentum. This is helicity.

What is helicity and what is


special about it?
So for a particle with definite momentum (such as a photon of
light with a definite wavelength and propagation direction),
helicity tells the spin, and therefore the angular momentum, since
there can be no definite orbital angular momentum in this case.
In the case of a photon, the helicity is directly tied to the
radiations circular polarization, which can be measured.
Furthermore, since angular momentum of a system is conserved
(and so is helicity), the circular polarization of a photon leaving an
atom as a result of some decay event in an atom with known
initial angular momentum tells us the final angular momentum of
the rest of the system.

What is helicity and what is


special about it?
The Wu experiment showed that parity is maximallyviolated by weak-force interactions, but did not measure
an invariant helicity of the neutrino. In that experiment,
spin angular momentum could have been preserved by
neutrinos with different helicities ejected in different
directions.

Orbital electron capture

Orbital electron capture

possible zspin of
individual
components

{, -}

{,
-}

{1,
-1}

{,
-}

The europium nucleus starts in a metastable state with spin I = 0, absorbs an


orbital electron to reach an excited state with spin I = 1 of samarium, then falls to
the ground state of samarium with I = 0.
The electron that is captured is usually in the K orbital and s suborbital: zero orbital
angular momentum. Electrons have spin of .
The photon has zero angular momentum as explained before. Photons have spin
of 1.
Neutrinos have spin of .

Orbital electron capture

projection of
angular
momentum
in z direction

-1

-1

-1

Measuring the helicity of the


photons

Measuring the helicity of the


photons
Eu
sample
152m

filtering magnet
lead shield

scintillator

Sm scatterer

photomultiplier

Measuring the helicity of the


photons
The analyzing magnet (top cylinder) filters out s with a helicity that
gives them a spin projection that is opposite of the spin of electrons
oriented by the metals field. If the spins are the same, the photon
and the electrons cannot exchange spin (that would give the
electron a spin component of 4/2). However, if the spin of the
electron is opposite the photons spin projection onto its momentum
direction, the particles can exchange spin and the sign of the
electrons spin can flip. In this case, energy from the photon is used
to change the magnetic field. This is magnetic Compton scattering.
The direction of the magnetic field can be flipped to filter out
gamma rays with either left or right-handed helicity.

Measuring the helicity of the


photons
Constraining the
neutrino direction

The scattering foil


ensures that only
gamma rays
travelling in a
direction opposite
that of the
neutrino are
counted.

Measuring the helicity of the


neutrinos
The helicity of neutrinos can only be determined if their
momentum direction is known.
For example, a neutrino ejected in the same direction as the
must have helicity that is opposite to that of the for angular
momentum to be conserved, but if the ve and the s are ejected
in opposite directions, their helicities must be the same.
This experiment constrained the relative directions of the
neutrinos and photons by making sure only to count gamma
rays that were emitted with a momentum direction opposite
that of the neutrinos.

Measuring the helicity of the


neutrinos
The gamma rays must scatter off of other Sm152 atoms in the scatterer,
which releases new photons that, in turn, interact with the scintillator that
feeds into the detector.
Excitation of the scatterers Sm152 will not occur if the has less energy than
that of the decay that produced it (the excitation of the scatterer is the
same as the excited state of the Sm152 that decayed to produce the ),
which will happen if the source Sm152 atom gained recoil energy from the
emission of the .
However, this does not happen if the neutrino is emitted in direction
opposite that of the , which cancels out the recoil.
Only photons that are produced in decay events that produce neutrinos
travelling in the opposite direction are reflected into the detector: these
photons are known to have helicity that equals the helicity of the neutrinos.

Measuring the helicity of the


A is created during decay
neutrinos
of from its excited state into
de
ca
yp
ro
du
ct

The excites on the


scatterer only if the s
energy is more than the
difference between s
ground state and excited
state. If the excitation
occurs, the will decay back
into its ground state and
possibly release a towards
the scintillator.

pa
th

its ground state. The s


energy can be more than
the difference between the
states only if the atom
doesnt recoil, which
happens if a neutrino is
ejected in the opposite
direction during decay of
152m
Eu.
The lead shield
ensures that s
coming directly
from the sample do
not reach the
scintillator.

Result

Result

Where is the counting rate with the magnetic field


pointing down and is the counting rate with the
magnetic field pointing up.

Result
authors estimate that the average path length of
The

gamma rays through the magnetic detector is equivalent to


3 0.3 mean free paths in fully magnetized iron. It seems
that they mean this to refer to s with z-spin projection
opposite to that of the magnetized electrons, and also that
the mean free path of s with the sign of z-spin projection
opposite to that of the electrons is very long. So in this case,
the difference is
The difference is centered at 0 and given in the paper as

Result
So
by simply dividing the obtained result by the theoretical
result with perfect magnetization
polarization, we obtain

and

100%

circular

suggesting that the s were 68% circularly polarized with


negative helicity. In unpublished calculations, when taking
into account the existence of deviations in the ejection angle
of the ves, the authors determined that 100% polarization
would be measured as 75%. Adding to error caused by
thermal effects leads the authors to believe their result
suggests that 100% of neutrinos have negative helicity.

Implication

Implication
The result of this experiment confirmed that GamowTeller transitions are axial, meaning the vectors involved
in these transitions are symmetric under parity, and
scalars are antisymmetric.
If the helicity (a pseudoscalar) of neutrinos (actually,
anti-neutrinos in this case) were split 50/50, the parity
transformation would not flip the sign of the total
helicity of many Gamow-Teller transitions (0 0).

Helicity depends on reference frame


for massive particles.
spi
n
reference frame

spi
n
reference frame

Image credits
Neutrino event image by Argonne National Laboratory. Public
domain.
All other images created by Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Public domain.