Scientists working with the William and Mary Experimental High Energy Physics Group have made a stunning discovery about the way neutrinos oscillate between three different states.
Scientists at the Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois have good reason to be overjoyed this week. The first results from the NOvA neutrino experiment were unveiled this Friday, and the findings could change our fundamental understanding of how the universe works for good. According to a press release from William and Mary, the experiment led to the observation of the first neutrino oscillations.
Members of the William and Mary Experimental High Energy Physics Group received the first piece of a three-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their work on NOvA and other experiments that study neutrinos.
Neutrinos are extremely common throughout the universe. Despite their ubiquity, they rarely interact with other particles, making them difficult to catch a hold of. There are three different types of neutrinos – muon, electron and tau. The breakthrough occurred when scientists observed neutrinos oscillating between these three states.
Researchers sent a beam of muon-type neutrinos from Fermilab through a 500-mile underground tunnel all the way to Ash River, Minnesota. They wanted to see if muon-type neutrinos ended up on the other side of the tunnel, or if they disappeared or oscillated to another flavor.
Experimental results published this week show that the scientists at Fermilab are on the right track – they have confirmed the presence of neutrinos that have oscillated. The team even cross-checked their results and discovered a higher level of oscillation than they originally thought they detected.
The study tries to answer some difficult questions, and understanding how neutrinos behave and oscillate is an important step. Being able to predict the way neutrinos behave may explain why matter is held together, and doesn’t burst into a massive wave of energy instead.