In the search for great names for bands, the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detectors has been available since the 1990s without any takers. That may change this week with the news that this odd device was used to discover a particle that should not exist – the sterile neutrino … a particle that can allegedly pass through matter and not interact with it (and another great band name if your bass drum isn’t big enough for the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detectors logo). Unfortunately, the experiment could not be replicated until recently which scientists using a new device appear to have proven its existence. Is it possible? Here’s the real question … is it band-name-worthy?
“That would be huge; that’s beyond the standard model; that would require new particles … and an all-new analytical framework.”
That’s Kate Scholberg, particle physicist at Duke University, commenting in LiveScience on the announcement, published in arXiv.org, of the possible discovery of the sterile neutrino by scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. It took the invention of another device — the MiniBooNE (Mini Booster Neutrino Experiment) instrument which was built solely to find the allegedly massless neutrinos – to discover the sterile neutrino (the other three are the electron, muon, and tau neutrinos) and then potentially blow the Standard Model of physics to smithereens by proving that neutrinos are not massless but, well, smithereens that can still pass through matter without interacting with it. This sounds like something dark matter might do. Are the sterile neutrinos dark matter?
As described in Quanta Magazine, the MiniBooNE sounds like something invented at a summer picnic by guys tired of firing their shotguns at empty beer cans. MiniBooNE shoots a beam of muon neutrinos at a giant tank filled with oil. Before hitting the oil, some of the muons change (by oscillation) into electron neutrinos which flash when they collide with oil molecules. While this happens rarely, it can be predicted reliably … which caused oscillation among physicists when the total number of hits was slightly higher than predicted.
One possible explanation is that heavier sterile neutrinos – called “sterile” because they never interact with anything but other neutrinos – exist and are also changing into electron neutrinos. The increase in mass measured on the other side of the oil barrel by the MiniBooNE indicates that the sterile neutrinos may not only exist but are not massless as previously theorized. And, if their mass is heavy enough, they could be good candidate for being dark matter.
“It’s clear there’s something to be understood, and I certainly hope it’s a fourth neutrino. That said, this would be the first discovered particle beyond the Standard Model, so the threshold for the evidence is obviously very high.” For now, he said, “I am taking a slight wait-and-see approach.”
Skeptics like Neal Weiner, a New York University theoretical physicist interviewed by Quanta, point out that more proof is needed before tossing the Standard Model out the window, especially because other similar experiments have not been able to replicate the results of MiniBooNE.
“I’m very excited about this result, but I am not ready to say ‘Eureka!’”
Janet Conrad, a neutrino physicist at MIT and a member of the MiniBooNE team, agrees, which is why she’s moving from MiniBooNE to ISODAR — an ISOtope Decay At Rest experiment which is being designed to “definitively address these physics topics using a well-understood, high-intensity 8Li β-decay-at-rest antineutrino source coupled with a massive detector such as KamLAND that has good inverse-betadecay identification capabilities with high efficiency.”
It’s nice to know there’s research money being spent on particle physics and, if the sterile neutrino has really been discovered, these experiments destroying the Standard Model of Particle Physics do not blow us to smithereens in the process.
They are also a great band name generator, as The Smithereens have proven. While ISODAR may not fit a band, it sounds like a great name for a Star Wars villain.