Magazine article Science News

Particle Physicists Chasing Ghosts: Wispy Neutrinos Could Explain Lack of Antimatter in Universe

Magazine article Science News

Particle Physicists Chasing Ghosts: Wispy Neutrinos Could Explain Lack of Antimatter in Universe

Article excerpt

Two experiments on different continents have found hints that particles called neutrinos can shape-shift in an unexpected way.

This behavior may be the key to understanding why these particles are so weird, says neutrino physicist Jennifer Raaf of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., the nation's largest particle physics lab. Raaf presented an overview of recent neutrino findings on August 9.

The new results also bode well for future neutrino experiments that may one day help scientists understand why the universe contains vastly more matter than antimatter. These experiments are part of the changing landscape of U.S. particle physics: With Fermilab's Tevatron, once the most powerful particle collider in the world, shutting down soon, the government laboratory is reconfiguring itself to focus on projects that require particularly intense beams and look for extremely rare events.

"Neutrinos will play a big role moving forward," says Young-Kee Kim, deputy director at Fermilab.

In the bestiary of particle physics, each of the three charged leptons--the familiar electron and the heavier muon and tau particle - have electrically neutral neutrino counterparts. Neutrinos are loners by nature, rarely interacting with the rest of the universe. But they do occasionally change form. That process, called oscillation, may offer clues about why the universe contains so little anti-matter.

In June the T2K experiment in Japan reported evidence that muon neutrinos occasionally oscillate into electron neutrinos. Six electron neutrinos appeared in a nearly pure beam of muon neutrinos traveling from an accelerator at the J-PARC facility to an underground detector 295 kilometers away. …

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