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  • richardmitnick 11:35 am on August 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Cyclotrons, , , ,   

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab: “Particle Accelerators Drive Decades of Discoveries at Berkeley Lab and Beyond” 

    Berkeley Logo

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

    August 27, 2019
    Glenn Roberts Jr.
    geroberts@lbl.gov
    (510) 486-5582


    This video and accompanying article highlight the decades of discoveries, achievements and progress in particle accelerator R&D at Berkeley Lab. Lab accelerators have enabled new explorations of the atomic nucleus; the production and discovery of new elements and isotopes, and of subatomic particles and their properties; created new types of medical imaging and treatments; and provided new insight into the nature of matter and energy, and new methods to advance industry and security, among other wide-ranging applications. The Lab also pioneered a framework for designing, building, and operating these machines of big science with multidisciplinary teams. Its longstanding expertise is now driving a new generation of innovations in advanced accelerators and their components. (Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab)

    Accelerators have been at the heart of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) since its inception in 1931, and are still a driving force in the Laboratory’s mission and its R&D program.

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    27 inch cyclotron built by Ernest O. Lawrence at U.C. Berkeley

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    Lawrence and the Cyclotron: the Birth of Big Science. https://blogs.plos.org

    Ernest O. Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron, the first circular particle accelerator – and the development of progressively larger versions – led him to build on the hillside overlooking the UC Berkeley campus that is now Berkeley Lab’s home. A variety of large cyclotrons are in use today around the world, and new accelerator technologies continue to drive progress.

    “Our work in accelerators and related technologies has shaped the growth and diversification of Berkeley Lab over its long history, and remains a vital core competency today,” said James Symons, associate laboratory director for Berkeley Lab’s Physical Sciences Area.

    Cyclotrons and their successors

    Cyclotrons are “atom smashers” that accelerate charged particles along spiral paths with strong electric fields. Powerful magnetic fields guide them as they move outward from the device’s center.

    They can be used to create different elements by bombarding a target material with a beam of protons, for example, or to explore the structures of atomic nuclei. Cyclotrons played a key role in the production and discovery of several elements, and Berkeley Lab scientists participated in the discovery of 16 elements and in the rearrangement of the periodic table.

    Periodic Table from IUPAC 2019

    Cyclotrons can also be used to create special isotopes – atoms of an element with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons packed into their nuclei – that can be used for medical treatments and imaging and for other research purposes. As an example, technetium-99, which was created by Berkeley’s 37-inch cyclotron and discovered by Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segrè, is used for millions of medical imaging scans a year worldwide.

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    37-inch cyclotron, general view. Photo taken 4/29/1947. 37″-333. Principal Investigator/Project: S. Harris

    The first facility built on the Berkeley Lab site was a massive 184-inch cyclotron. The iconic dome over the cyclotron now houses another accelerator: the Advanced Light Source.

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    184” (184 inch) Cyclotron taken in 1942. Credit: Lawrence Berkeley Nat’l Lab

    LBNL ALS

    Berkeley Lab scientists led the design and development of other new concepts in accelerators. After initial tests on an old cyclotron, the 184-Inch Cyclotron was rebuilt into a “synchro-cyclotron.”

    Edward McMillan then led the construction of a powerful ring-shaped electron accelerator, which he dubbed the “synchrotron,” that was based on a principle he co-discovered called “phase stability.” Within just a few years of its inception, construction began on an ambitious synchrotron, called the Bevatron for its 6 billion electron volts of energy, that reigned for several years as the most powerful in the world.

    LBNL Bevatron

    The Bevatron enabled the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the antiproton, and two other Nobel Prizes were awarded based on research conducted at the Bevatron. Almost every accelerator built today operates using this same principle.

    Accelerator R&D and experiments at the Lab – and Lab scientists’ participation in experiments at other sites – have enabled discoveries of many subatomic particles and their properties, including the Higgs boson.

    Berkeley Lab scientists have also driven many innovations in linear accelerators, which accelerate particles along a straight path and offer some different capabilities than ring-shaped accelerators.

    Using a linear accelerator called the HILAC – and its SuperHILAC upgrade – to accelerate heavy charged particles (ions), scientists added several more new elements to the periodic table.

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    Inside the Super HILAC | Department of Energy

    The eventual use of the SuperHILAC to produce beams of charged particles for Bevatron experiments – the coupling led to the Bevatron’s rebranding as the Bevalac – gave rise to the study of nuclear matter at extreme temperatures and pressures.

    Lab accelerators also launched pioneering programs in biomedical research, including the use of accelerator beam-based cancer therapies and the production of medical isotopes. Lawrence’s brother John, a medical doctor, was a pioneer in this early nuclear medicine research, which spawned new pathways in medical treatments that have since developed into well-established fields.

    Berkeley Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron still supports cutting-edge nuclear science, including heavy-element research and tests that show how electronic components stand up to the effects of simulated space radiation.

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    88-Inch Cyclotron. LBNL

    Staff at the 88-Inch Cyclotron have also played a central role in the development of ion sources that achieve high-charge states. A new Ion Source Group at the Lab works on the machines that create beams driving this field of research.

    Accelerators that produce light

    Synchrotron light sources accelerate and bend particle beams using a magnetic field, causing them to give off light with special qualities. Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) [above] that launched in 1993, generates intense, focused beams of X-rays to support a wide range of experiments. Most earlier light sources had been converted from accelerators built for high-energy physics experiments.

    The ALS is considered to be the first “third-generation” light source, a synchrotron designed specifically to support many simultaneous experiments and that features advanced magnetic devices such as wigglers and undulators to greatly increase the brightness of the X-ray beams. The late Berkeley Lab scientist Klaus Halbach pioneered the use of permanent magnets to create powerful, compact devices for use in accelerators.

    Berkeley Lab is now preparing for a major upgrade of the ALS, known as the ALS Upgrade or ALS-U, that will increase the brightness of its low-energy X-ray beams a hundredfold and focus them down to a few billionths of a meter. ALS-U will enable explorations of more-complex materials and phenomena.

    Light that produces acceleration

    Light can also be used as a driver to accelerate particles. The Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center features four high-power laser systems that support an intense R&D effort in laser plasma acceleration. This technique uses lasers to drive the acceleration of electrons over a much shorter distance than is possible with conventional technology.

    A view of BELLA, the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator. (Credit Roy Kaltschmidt-Berkeley Lab)

    The BELLA petawatt laser is driving research toward the high energies required for a next-generation particle collider while reducing the size and cost of such a machine compared to those of conventional large-scale accelerators. Other laser systems are aiming for new light sources driven by powerful beams from portable and centimeter-sized accelerators.

    Innovating locally, participating globally

    The revolutionary accelerators first developed at Berkeley Lab were large, complex machines that required innovations and expertise in science and engineering, and close coordination among specialists from many different disciplines.

    Lawrence and his lab championed a “team science” approach as the means to realize the vision for large accelerators pushing the boundaries of discovery. The global scientific community still embraces this approach, and the world’s most powerful accelerators and colliders require large teams of scientists, engineers, technicians, and others that can number into the thousands.

    In addition to Berkeley Lab’s own accelerators, its scientists and engineers have been instrumental in bringing their expertise to bear in the design and construction of accelerators and their components for accelerator projects across the U.S. and globally.

    Berkeley Lab researchers are building powerful superconducting magnets for an upgrade of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Europe, which is the world’s largest particle collider, as just one example.

    LHC

    CERN map


    CERN LHC Maximilien Brice and Julien Marius Ordan


    CERN LHC particles

    THE FOUR MAJOR PROJECT COLLABORATIONS

    ATLAS

    CERN ATLAS Image Claudia Marcelloni CERN/ATLAS

    ALICE

    CERN/ALICE Detector


    CMS
    CERN CMS New

    LHCb
    CERN LHCb New II

    They are also contributing an ion beam source magnet for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) under construction at Michigan State University, and in designing and overseeing the construction and delivery of major components for an upgrade of the Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California.

    Michigan State University FRIB [Facility for Rare Isotope Beams]

    SLAC/LCLS II projected view

    The Lab also has rich experience in developing control systems and instrumentation to precisely tune beam performance. Modeling and simulation of particle beams enable researchers to use “virtual accelerators” to better understand, efficiently optimize, and predict beam properties in the design of advanced particle accelerators.

    “We are thrilled to contribute to this continuing wave of innovation and progress that is ‘accelerating the future,’” said Thomas Schenkel, interim director of the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division at Berkeley Lab. “The rich history of excellence in accelerator technologies here is the foundation upon which we are building the next generation of these powerful tools for scientific discoveries and industrial applications.”

    The Advanced Light Source and Linac Coherent Light Source are DOE Office of Science User Facilities, and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, now under construction, will also be a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

    See the full article here .

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    LBNL campus

    Bringing Science Solutions to the World
    In the world of science, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is synonymous with “excellence.” Thirteen Nobel prizes are associated with Berkeley Lab. Seventy Lab scientists are members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States. Thirteen of our scientists have won the National Medal of Science, our nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. Eighteen of our engineers have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and three of our scientists have been elected into the Institute of Medicine. In addition, Berkeley Lab has trained thousands of university science and engineering students who are advancing technological innovations across the nation and around the world.

    Berkeley Lab is a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Office of Science. It is managed by the University of California (UC) and is charged with conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Located on a 202-acre site in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus that offers spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley Lab employs approximately 3,232 scientists, engineers and support staff. The Lab’s total costs for FY 2014 were $785 million. A recent study estimates the Laboratory’s overall economic impact through direct, indirect and induced spending on the nine counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area to be nearly $700 million annually. The Lab was also responsible for creating 5,600 jobs locally and 12,000 nationally. The overall economic impact on the national economy is estimated at $1.6 billion a year. Technologies developed at Berkeley Lab have generated billions of dollars in revenues, and thousands of jobs. Savings as a result of Berkeley Lab developments in lighting and windows, and other energy-efficient technologies, have also been in the billions of dollars.

    Berkeley Lab was founded in 1931 by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a UC Berkeley physicist who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cyclotron, a circular particle accelerator that opened the door to high-energy physics. It was Lawrence’s belief that scientific research is best done through teams of individuals with different fields of expertise, working together. His teamwork concept is a Berkeley Lab legacy that continues today.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California.

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  • richardmitnick 9:53 pm on December 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Cyclotrons, , , , , ,   

    From SA: “It’s Time for Particle Physics to go Back to the Future” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    December 14, 2016
    Savas Dimopoulos

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    M. Stanley Livingston (left) and Ernest O. Lawrence in front of 27-inch cyclotron at the old Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Credit: U.S. Department of Energy; Public Domain

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    he old radiation Laboratory on the UC Campus. No image credit.

    Particle physics is incredible—an awe-inspiring combination of ambitious research and technical skill. Theorists have built a picture of our universe at the smallest scale, and experimentalists have devised the most ambitious experiments to probe this infinitesimal world.

    Their successes have led to the Standard Model, a staggeringly successful theory and the most complete understanding of nature we have, which explains almost everything we observe in terms of a handful of numbers, particles, and forces.

    Modern particle physics is a triumph of humanity’s best qualities: creativity, curiosity, and collaboration.

    The field’s crowning achievement, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, is the biggest, most complex terrestrial experiment in history.

    CERN/LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel
    CERN LHC particles
    LHC at CERN

    It cost $10 billion to build, is 17 miles in circumference, and straddles two countries. Its superconducting magnets, proton beam, and sheer power are engineering marvels. There are as many as 13,000 brilliant people working at CERN on any given day.

    Without question, the LHC is the signature scientific machine for particle physics of my generation. The discovery of the Higgs boson—a particle predicted by theory a half-century earlier—was one of history’s great scientific achievements.

    CERN CMS Higgs Event
    CERN CMS Higgs Event
    CERN/CMS Detector
    CERN/CMS Detector

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event
    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event
    CERN/ATLAS detector
    CERN/ATLAS detector

    But there is a problem. The LHC is reaching its energy limits, and it will take roughly 30 years to build the next great collider. That number is conservative, given the enormous complexities and costs involved. It also happens to be the approximate lifespan of an academic career.

    Can we really expect an entire generation of young minds to sit on the sidelines waiting for the next experiment to be built? More importantly, should we?

    For a decade, particle physicists have thought about what comes next. How we should address the many gaps in our knowledge? What is the nature of dark matter? What is our universe really made of and how does it work? Why is the universe so large? Why is gravity so weak? Physics is far from finished.

    I think we should look to our past for the answer.

    The first particle accelerators were built in the early 1930s. John Cockroft and Ernest Walton used a 200-kilovolt transformer to accelerate protons down a tube just eight feet long. Ernest Lawrence realized that if the tube were made circular, and particles were kept moving, they would accelerate to much higher energies. His first “cyclotron” was four-and-a-half inches in diameter.

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    First cyclotron built by E.O. Lawrence at UC Berkeley, 1930

    In its early days, particle physics was a dynamic, fast-moving interaction of theory, inspiration, calculation, engineering, and tinkering. Everything went into the mix, and each spectacular success built support for the next leap forward, further galvanizing public support for big science in the 20th century.

    The age of accelerators was enormously successful, and I believe it will be again, but in the interim we should return to our roots.

    Over the last 40 years, a number of well-motivated, important theoretical ideas have developed, but have not yet been tested experimentally—not because they are unworthy, but because we have focused on high energy experiments. These ideas imply the existence of new dimensions of space, new forces in nature, and new fundamental constituents of matter. They are ideas of great importance that cannot be tested by simply going to higher and higher energies.

    While we have focused on supersized particle accelerators, modern technology has opened a new frontier, heralding the era of high-precision particle physics. These technologies can be employed in small, precise experiments that can look for a broad range of new phenomena. These experiments can fit on a table top, require 10 people rather than 10,000, and cost a few hundred thousand dollars, rather than the billions required for a supercollider like the LHC.

    We are on the verge of a renaissance in table-top particle physics experiments.

    Over the last decade or so, a number of smart, ambitious young theorists have begun to think seriously about applying new technologies to previously overlooked areas.

    Three of them—former students of mine, I am very proud to say—have just been awarded the prestigious Breakthrough New Horizons Prize: Asimina Arvanitaki (The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Aristarchus Chair at Canada’s Perimeter Institute), Peter Graham (Assistant Professor at Stanford University) and Surjeet Rajendran (The Henry Shenker Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley).

    I see the award as further validation that these young scientists are pushing the field in important new directions.

    As a former teacher of these brilliant young people, I am brimming with pride. As a theorist who waited decades to test my work at the LHC, I see three bright lights who can help us avoid a “lost generation” in particle physics.

    I hope that this newly awarded research is further embraced with the same excitement and dynamism that characterized the early days of particle physics.

    If this comes to pass, the coming decades will be an exciting time to be a particle physicist—and, by extension, an exciting time for human inquiry into the nature of it all.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:27 pm on December 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Cyclotrons, , Janet Conrad, , , , ,   

    From Quanta: Women in STEM – “On a Hunt for a Ghost of a Particle” Janet Conrad 

    Quanta Magazine
    Quanta Magazine

    Janet Conrad has a plan to catch the sterile neutrino — an elusive particle, possibly glimpsed by a number of experiments, that would upend what we know about the subatomic world.

    December 8, 2016
    Maggie McKee

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    Kayana Szymczak for Quanta Magazine

    Even for a particle physicist, Janet Conrad thinks small. Early in her career, when her peers were fanning out in search of the top quark, now known to be the heaviest elementary particle, she broke ranks to seek out the neutrino, the lightest.

    In part, she did this to avoid working as part of a large collaboration, demonstrating an independent streak shared by the particles she studies. Neutrinos eschew the strong and electromagnetic forces, maintaining only the most tenuous of ties to the rest of the universe through the weak force and gravity. This aloofness makes neutrinos hard to study, but it also allows them to serve as potential indicators of forces or particles entirely new to physics, according to Conrad, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If there’s a force out there we haven’t seen, it must be because it is very, very weak — very quiet. So looking at a place where things are only whispering is a good idea.”

    In fact, neutrinos have already hinted at the existence of a new type of whispery particle. Neutrinos come in three flavors, morphing from one flavor to another by means of some quantum jujitsu. In 1995, the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) at Los Alamos National Laboratory suggested that these oscillations involve more than the three flavors “we knew and loved,” Conrad said. Could there be another, more elusive type of “sterile” neutrino that can’t feel even the weak force? Conrad has been trying to find out ever since, and she expects to get the latest result from a long-running follow-up experiment called MiniBooNE within a year.

    FNAL/MiniBooNE
    FNAL/MiniBooNE

    Still, even MiniBooNE is unlikely to settle the question, especially since a number of other experiments have found no signs of sterile neutrinos. So Conrad is designing what she hopes will be a decisive test using — naturally — a small particle accelerator called a cyclotron rather than a behemoth like the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. “I feel like my field just keeps deciding to get at our problems by growing, and I think that there’s going to be a point at which that’s not sustainable,” Conrad said. “When the great meteor hits, I want to be a small, fuzzy mammal. That’s my plan: small, fuzzy mammal.”

    Quanta Magazine spoke with Conrad about her hunt for sterile neutrinos, her penchant for anthropomorphizing particles, and her work on the latest Ghostbusters reboot. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.

    QUANTA MAGAZINE: What would it mean for physics if sterile neutrinos exist?

    JANET CONRAD: The Standard Model of particle physics has done very well in predicting what’s going on, but there’s a great deal it can’t explain — for example, dark matter.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.
    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    Right now we’re desperately looking for clues as to what the larger theory would be. We have been working on ideas, and in many of these “grand unified theories,” you actually get sterile neutrinos falling out of the theory. If we were to discover that there were these extra neutrinos, it would be huge. It would really be a major clue to what the larger theory would be.

    You’ve been looking for neutrinos your entire career. Was that always the plan?

    I started out thinking I was going to be an astronomer. I went to Swarthmore College and discovered that astronomy is cold and dark. I was lucky enough to get hired to work in a particle physics lab. I worked for the Harvard Cyclotron, which was at that time treating eye cancers. But in the evenings physicists would bring their detectors down and calibrate them using the same accelerator. I was really interested in what they were doing and got a position the next summer at Fermilab [FNAL]. It was such a good fit for me. I just think the idea of creating these tiny little universes is so wondrous. Every collision is a little world. And the detectors are really big and fun to work on — I like to climb around stuff. I liked the juxtaposition of the scales; this incredibly tiny little world you create and this enormous detector you see it in.

    And how did you get into neutrino research in particular?

    When I was in grad school, the big question was: What is the mass of the top quark? Everybody expected me to join one of the collider experiments to find the top quark and measure its mass, and instead I was looking around and was quite interested in what was going on in the neutrino world. I actually had some senior people tell me it would be the end of my career.

    Why did you take that risk?

    I was very interested in the questions that were coming out of the neutrino experiments, and also I didn’t really want to join an enormously large collaboration. I was more interested in the funny little anomalies that were already showing up in the neutrino world than I was in a particle which had to exist — the top quark — and the question of what was its precise mass. I am really, I suppose, an anomaly chaser. I admit it. Some people might call it an epithet. I wear it with pride.

    One of those anomalies was the hint of an extra type of neutrino beyond the three known flavors in the Standard Model. That result from LSND was such an outlier that some physicists suggested dismissing it. Instead, you helped lead an experiment at Fermilab, called MiniBooNE, to follow up on it. Why?

    You’re not allowed to throw out data, I’m sorry. That is exactly how to miss important new physics. We can’t be so in love with our Standard Model that we aren’t willing to question it. Even if the question doesn’t align with our prejudices, we have to ask the question anyway. When I started out, nobody was really interested in sterile neutrinos. It was a lonely land out there.

    MiniBooNE’s results have added to the mystery. In one set of experiments using antineutrinos, it found LSND-like hints of sterile neutrinos, and in another, using neutrinos, it did not.

    The antineutrino result matched up with LSND very well, but the neutrino result, which is the one we produced first, is the one that doesn’t match up. The whole world would be a very different place if we had started with antineutrino running and gotten a result that matched LSND. I think there would have been a lot more interest immediately in the sterile-neutrino question. We would have been where we are now at least 10 years earlier.

    Where are we now?

    There are eight experiments total that have anomalies suggesting the presence of more than the three known flavors of neutrino. There are also seven experiments that don’t. Recently, some of the experiments that have not seen an effect have gotten a lot of press, including IceCube, which is a result that my group worked on. A lot of press came out about how IceCube didn’t see a sterile-neutrino signal. But while the data rules out some of the possible sterile-neutrino masses, it doesn’t rule out all of them, a result we point out in an article that has just been published in Physical Review Letters.

    Why are neutrino studies so hard?

    Most neutrino experiments need very large detectors that need to be underground, almost always under mountains, to be protected from cosmic rays that themselves produce neutrinos. And all of the accelerator systems we build tend to be in plains — like Fermilab is in Illinois. So once you decide you’re going to build a beam and shoot it for such a long distance, the costs are enormous, and the beams are very difficult to design and produce.

    FNAL LBNF/DUNE from FNAL to SURF
    FNAL LBNF/DUNE from FNAL to SURF

    FNAL/NOvA experiment
    FNAL/NOvA

    Is there any way around these problems?

    What I would really like to see is a future series of experiments that are really decisive. One possibility for this is IsoDAR, which is part of a larger experiment called DAEδALUS.

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    DAEδALUS

    IsoDAR will take a small cyclotron and use it as a driver to produce lithium-8 that decays, resulting in a very pure source of antielectron neutrinos. If we paired that with the KamLAND detector in Japan, then you would be able to see the whole neutrino oscillation.

    KamLAND at the Kamioka Observatory in Japan
    KamLAND at the Kamioka Observatory in Japan

    You don’t just measure an effect at a few points, you can trace the entire oscillation wave. The National Science Foundation has given us a little over $1 million to demonstrate the system can work. We’re excited about that.

    Why would IsoDAR be a more decisive sterile-neutrino hunter?

    This is a case where you don’t produce a beam in the normal way, by smashing protons into a target and using a series of magnetic fields to herd the resulting charged particles into a wide beam where they decay into several kinds of neutrinos, among other particles. Instead you allow the particle you produce, which has a short lifetime, to decay. And it decays uniformly into one kind of neutrino in all directions. All of the aspects of this neutrino beam — the flavor, the intensity, the energies — are driven by the interaction that’s involved in the decay, not by anything that human beings do. Human beings cannot screw up this beam! It’s really a new way of thinking and a new kind of source for the neutrino community that I think can become very widely used once we prove the first one.

    So the resulting neutrino interactions are easier to interpret?

    We’re talking about a signal-to-background ratio of 10 to one. By contrast, most of the reactor experiments looking for antineutrinos are running with a signal-to-background ratio of one to one if they do well, since the neutrons that come out of the reactor core can actually produce a signal that looks a lot like the antineutrino signal you are looking for.

    Speaking of spectral signals, tell me about your connection with the recent Ghostbusters movie remake.

    It’s the first movie I’ve consulted for. It happened because of Lindley Winslow. She was at the University of California, Los Angeles, before she came to MIT. At UCLA, she had made a certain amount of connection with the film industry, and so they had gotten in touch with her. She showed them my office, and they really liked my books. My books are stars — you do get to see them in the movie and some of the other things from my office here and there. When they brought the books back, they put them all back exactly the way they were. What’s really funny about that was that they were not in any order.

    What did you think of the movie itself? Did you relate to the way Kristen Wiig played a physicist?

    I was really happy to see a whole new rendering of it. To watch the characters interact; I think there was a lot of impromptu work. It really came through that these women resonated with each other. In the movie, Kristen Wiig goes into an empty auditorium and she rehearses for her lecture. I felt for that character. When I started out as a faculty member, I had very little experience as somebody who actually taught — I had done all this research. It’s kind of ridiculous to think about now, but I went through those first lectures and really rehearsed them.

    In a way, your career has come full circle, since you started out working at a cyclotron in college and now you want to use another one to hunt for sterile neutrinos. Can you really do cutting-edge research with cyclotrons that accelerate particles to energies just a thousandth of a percent of those reached at the Large Hadron Collider?

    Cyclotrons were invented back at the beginning of the last century.

    5
    The prototype cyclotrons built by E.O. Lawrence. On display at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Picture by Deb McCaffrey.

    They were limited in energy, and as a result, they went out of fashion as particle physicists decided that they needed larger and larger accelerators going up to higher and higher energies. But in the meantime, the research that was done for the nuclear physics community and also for medical isotopes and for treating people with cancer took cyclotrons in a whole different direction. They’ve turned into these amazing machines, which now we can bring back to particle physics. There are questions that can perhaps be better answered if you are working at lower energies but with much purer beams, with more intense beams, and with much better-understood beams. And they’re really nice because they’re small. You can bring your cyclotron to your ultra-large detector, whereas it’s very hard to move Fermilab to your ultra-large detector.

    A single type of sterile neutrino is hard to reconcile with existing experiments, right?

    I think the little beast looks different from what we thought. The very simplistic model introduces only one sterile neutrino. That would be a little weird if you were guided by patterns. If you look at the patterns of all the other particles, they’re appearing in sets of three. If you introduce three, and you do all the dynamics between them properly, does that fix the problem? People have taken a few steps toward answering that, but we’re still doing approximations.

    You just called the sterile neutrino a “little beast.” Do you anthropomorphize particles?

    There’s no question about that. They all have these great little personalities. The quarks are the mean girls. They’re stuck in their little cliques and they won’t come out. The electron is the girl next door. She’s the one you can always depend on to be your friend — you plug in and there she is, right? And she’s much more interesting than people would think. What I like about the neutrinos is they’re very independent. With that said, with neutrinos as friends, you will never be lonely, because there are a billion neutrinos in every cubic meter of space. I have opinions about all of them.

    When did you start creating these characterizations?

    I’ve always thought about them that way. I have in fact been criticized for thinking about them that way and I don’t care. I don’t know how you think about things that are disconnected from your own experience. You have to be really careful not to go down a route that you shouldn’t go down, but it’s a way of thinking about things that’s completely legitimate and gives you some context. I still remember once describing some of the work I was doing as fun. I had one physicist say to me, “This is not fun; this is serious research.” I was, like, you know, serious research can be a lot of fun. Being fun doesn’t make it less important — those are not mutually exclusive.

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    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

     
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