Jones, DOE lab partner to prove new atomic cooling techniques

Cold tritium beams will allow for unprecedented sensitivity to physics of neutrino mass

Wednesday, Nov 08, 2023 • Katherine Egan Bennett :

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded associate professor of physics Benjamin Jones a $540,000 grant to initiate a new collaborative research partnership between The University of Texas at Arlington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. The project aims to prove a new atomic cooling approach required for the next generation of neutrino mass research.

Neutrinos are the most abundant particles with mass in the universe. Every time atomic nuclei come together (in the case of stars like the sun) or break apart (such as in nuclear reactors), neutrinos are produced. Even simple everyday items like bananas emit neutrinos from the natural radioactivity of potassium in the fruit.

Scientists believe that studying neutrinos can help us understand how the universe came to contain matter rather than nothing at all and how the laws of physics behave at the smallest distance scales.

In addition to having little mass, neutrinos also interact very weakly, making it difficult for scientists to pinpoint them for proper study. For this project, researchers will develop new methods of creating slow and cold atomic beams that can be trapped and used as sources for precision neutrino mass measurements.

This innovative approach will use partially cooled lithium and accommodated tritium that will serve as an input to the Cyclotron Radiation Emission Spectroscopy systems that are part of the Project 8 collaboration. Project 8 is a long-term collaboration of international scientists studying neutrino mass with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence at the University of Mainz in Germany and numerous universities.

“The unknown absolute value of the mass of the neutrino is one of the most glaring holes in our understanding of particle physics,” Jones said. “This project will initiate an exciting new collaboration between UTA’s emerging research capabilities and the Department of Energy as we work together to test novel atomic cooling approaches required to enable the next generation of neutrino mass research.”

Jones and his team have been working together on research at the interface of atomic, molecular, optical and nuclear physics since 2016. Since then, their primary focus has been single barium ion tagging in high-pressure xenon gas, a technique to enable future background-free neutrinoless double beta decay searchers.

“These projects are characteristic of our unique approach within the UTA Center for Advanced Detector Technologies,” Jones said. “By employing techniques from the cutting edge of a variety of disciplines, we can develop new technologies that attack difficult scientific problems in new and innovative ways. The new magnetically slowed and cooled beamline technology may also have other applications, including precision magnetometry and low temperature searches for dark matter.”


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