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Neutrino is also an operating system. See QNX.
It is also one half of the rap duo Oxide & Neutrino

The neutrino is an elementary particle. It has half-integer spin (Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \begin{matrix}\frac{1}{2}\hbar\end{matrix}} ) and is therefore a fermion. Its mass is very small compared to most other particles, although recent experiments (see Super-Kamiokande, Sudbury Neutrino Observatory and KamLAND) have shown it to be nonzero. Since it is an electrically neutral lepton, the neutrino interacts neither by way of the strong nor the electromagnetic force, but only through the weak force and gravitation.

Due to the fact that the cross section in weak nuclear interactions is very small, neutrinos can pass through matter almost unhindered. For typical neutrinos produced in the sun (energy of a few MeV), it would take approximately one light year (~1016m) of lead to block half of them. Detection of neutrinos can therefore be challenging, requiring large detection volumes or high intensity man-made neutrino beams.

Types of neutrinos

Left handed neutrinos
in the Standard Model
Fermion Symbol Mass**
Generation 1 (electron)
Electron neutrino Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \nu_e\,} < 2.5 eV
Electron antineutrino Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \bar{\nu}_e\,} < 2.5 eV
Generation 2 (muon)
Muon neutrino Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \nu_\mu\,} < 170 keV
Muon antineutrino Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \bar{\nu}_\mu\,} < 170 keV
Generation 3 (tau)
Tau neutrino Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \nu_{\tau}\,} < 18 MeV
Tau antineutrino Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \bar{\nu}_\tau\,} < 18 MeV

There are three known types (flavors) of neutrinos: electron neutrino νe, muon neutrino νμ and tau neutrino ντ, named after their partner leptons in the Standard Model (see table at right). The current best measurement of the number of neutrino types comes form observing the decay of the Z boson. This particle can decay into any neutrino and its antineutrino, and the more types of neutrinos available, the shorter the lifetime of the Z boson. The latest measurements put the number of light neutrino types (where "light" means having mass less than half the Z mass) at 2.984±0.008[1]. The possibility of sterile neutrinos — neutrinos which do not participate in the weak interaction but which could be created through flavor oscillation (see below) — is unaffected by these Z-boson-based measurements. The correspondence between the six - currently known - quarks in the Standard Model and the six leptons, among them the three neutrinos, provides additional evidence that there should be exactly three types. However, conclusive proof that there are only three kinds of neutrinos remains an elusive goal of particle physics.

Flavor Oscillations

Neutrinos are always created or detected with a well defined flavor (electron, muon, tau). However, in a phenomenon known as neutrino flavor oscillation, neutrinos are able to oscillate between the three available flavors while they propagate through space. Specifically, this occurs because the neutrino flavor eigenstates are not eigenstates of the propagation Hamiltonian. This allows for a neutrino that was produced as an electron neutrino at a given location to have a calculable probability to be detected as either a muon or tau neutrino after it has traveled to another location. This effect was first noticed due to the number of electron neutrinos detected from the sun's core failing to match the expected numbers, a discrepancy dubbed the "solar neutrino problem". The existence of flavor oscillations implies a non-zero neutrino mass, since the amount of mixing between neutrino flavors is proportional to the differences in their squared-masses (zero for massless neutrinos). Despite their massive nature, it is still possible that the neutrino and antineutrino are in fact the same particle, a hypothesis first proposed by the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana.


The neutrino was first postulated in 1931 by Wolfgang Pauli to explain the energy spectrum of beta decays, the decay of a neutron into a proton and an electron. Pauli theorized that an undetected particle was carrying away the observed difference between the energy and angular momentum of the initial and final particles. Because of their "ghostly" properties, the first experimental detection of neutrinos had to wait until about 25 years after they were first discussed. In 1956 Clyde Cowan, Frederick Reines, F. B. Harrison, H. W. Kruse, and A. D. McGuire published the article "Detection of the Free Neutrino: a Confirmation" in Science (see neutrino experiment), a result that was rewarded with the 1995 Nobel Prize.

The name neutrino was coined by Enrico Fermi - who developed the first theory describing neutrino interactions - as a word play on neutrone, the Italian name of the neutron. (Neutrone in Italian means big and neutral, and neutrino means small and neutral.)
In 1962 Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger showed that more than one type of neutrino exists by first detecting interactions of the muon neutrino. When a third type of lepton, the tau, was discovered in 1975 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, it too was expected to have an associated neutrino. First evidence for this third neutrino type came from the observation of missing energy and momentum in tau decays analogous to the beta decay that had led to the discovery of the neutrino in the first place. The first detection of actual tau neutrino interactions was announced in summer of 2000 by the DONUT collaboration[2] at Fermilab, making it the latest particle of the Standard Model to have been directly observed.

The difficulty in detecting neutrinos was illustrated by Richard Feynman. He said "All you have to do is imagine something that does practically nothing. You can use your son-in-law as a prototype."


The Standard Model of particle physics assumes that neutrinos are massless, although adding massive neutrinos to the basic framework is not difficult. Indeed, the experimentally established phenomenon of neutrino oscillation requires non-zero neutrino masses. The strongest upper limits on neutrino mass come from cosmology. The Big Bang model predicts that there is a fixed ratio between the number of neutrinos and the number of photons in the cosmic microwave background. If the total mass of all three types of neutrinos exceeded 50 electron volts (per neutrino), there would be so much mass in the universe that it would collapse. This limit can be circumvented by assuming that the neutrino is unstable; however, there are limits within the Standard Model that make this difficult.

Neutrino sources

Human generated

Nuclear power stations are the major source of human-generated neutrinos. An average plant may generate over 1020 anti-neutrinos per second.

Some particle accelerators have been used to make neutrino beams. The technique is to smash protons into a fixed target, producing charged pions or kaons. These unstable particles are then magnetically focussed into a long tunnel where they decay while in flight. Because of the relativistic boost of the decaying particle the neutrinos are produced as a beam rather than isotropically.

Nuclear bombs also produce very large numbers of neutrinos. Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan thought about trying to detect neutrinos from a bomb before they switched to looking for reactor neutrinos.

The Earth

Neutrinos are produced as a result of natural background radiation. In particular, the decay chains of uranium and thorium isotopes, as well as potassium-40, include beta decays which emit neutrinos.

Atmospheric neutrinos

Atmospheric neutrinos result from the interaction of cosmic rays with atoms in the Earth's atmosphere, creating showers of particles, many of which are unstable and produce neutrinos when they decay.

Solar neutrinos

Solar neutrinos originate from the nuclear fusion powering the Sun and other stars.

Raymond Davis Jr. and Masatoshi Koshiba were jointly awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in the detection of cosmic neutrinos.

Cosmological phenomena

Neutrinos are an important product of supernovas. Most of the energy produced in supernovas is radiated away in the form of an immense burst of neutrinos, which are produced when protons and electrons in the core combine to form neutrons. The first experimental evidence of this phenomenon came in the year 1987, when neutrinos coming from the supernova 1987a were detected. In such events, the densities at the core become so high (1014 g/cm3) that interaction between the produced neutrinos and surrounding stellar matter becomes significant. It is thought that neutrinos would also be produced from other events such as the collision of neutron stars.

Because neutrinos interact so little with matter, it is thought that a supernova's neutrino emissions carry information about the innermost regions of the explosion. Much of the visible light comes from the decay of radioactive elements produced by the supernova shock wave, and even light from the explosion itself is scattered by dense and turbulent gases. Neutrinos, on the other hand, pass through these gases, providing information about the supernova core (where the densities were large enough to influence the neutrino signal). Furthermore, the neutrino burst is expected to reach Earth before any electromagnetic waves, including visible light, gamma rays or radio waves. The exact time delay is unknown, but for a Type II supernova, astronomers expect the neutrino flood to be released seconds after the stellar core collapse, while the first electromagnetic signal may be hours or days later. The SNEWS project uses a network of neutrino detectors to monitor the sky for candidate supernova events; it is hoped that the neutrino signal will provide a useful advance warning of an exploding star.

Cosmic background radiation

It is thought that the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang includes a background of low energy neutrinos. In the 1980s it was proposed that these may be the explanation for the dark matter thought to exist in the universe. Neutrinos have one important advantage over most other dark matter candidates: we know they exist. However, they also have serious problems. From particle experiments, it is known that neutrinos tend to be hot, i.e. move at speeds close to the speed of light—hence this scenario was also known as hot dark matter. The problem is that being hot and fast moving, the neutrinos would tend to spread out evenly in the universe. This would tend to cause matter to be smeared out and prevent the large galactic structures that we see.

Neutrino detection

Neutrinos can interact via the neutral current (involving the exchange of a Z boson) or charged current (involving the exchange of a W boson) weak interactions.

  • In a neutral current interaction, the neutrino leaves the detector after having transfered some of its energy and momentum to a target particle. All three neutrino flavors can participate regardless of the neutrino energy. However, no neutrino flavor information is left behind.
  • In a charged current interaction, the neutrino transforms into its partner lepton (electron, muon, or tau). However, if the neutrino does not have sufficient energy to create its heavier partner's mass, the charged current interaction is unavailable to it. Solar and reactor neutrinos have enough energy to create electrons. Most accelerator-based neutrino beams can also create muons, and a few can create taus. A detector which can distinguish among these leptons can reveal the flavor of the incident neutrino in a charged current interaction. Since the interaction involves the exchange of a charged boson, the target particle also changes character (e.g., neutron → proton).

Antineutrinos were first detected in 1953 near a nuclear reactor. Reines and Cowan used two targets containing a solution of cadmium chloride in water. Two scintillation detectors were placed next to the cadmium targets. Antineutrino charged current interactions with the protons in the water produced positrons and neutrons. The resulting positron annihilations with electrons created photons with an energy of about 0.5 MeV. Pairs of photons in coincidence could be detected by the two scintillation detectors above and below the target. The neutrons were captured by cadmium nuclei resulting in gamma rays of about 8 MeV that were detected a few microseconds after the photons from a positron annihilation event.

Chlorine detectors consist of a tank filled with carbon tetrachloride. A neutrino converts a chlorine atom into one of argon via the charged current interaction. The fluid is periodically purged with helium gas which would remove the argon. The helium is then cooled to separate out the argon. A chlorine detector in the former Homestake Mine near Lead, South Dakota, containing 520 short tons (470 metric tons) of fluid, made the first measurement of the deficit of electron neutrinos from the sun (see solar neutrino problem). A similar detector design uses a galliumgermanium transformation which is sensitive to lower energy neutrinos. These chemical detection methods are useful only for counting neutrinos; no neutrino direction or energy information is available.

"Ring-imaging" detectors take advantage of the Cherenkov light produced by charged particles moving through a medium faster than the speed of light in that medium. In these detectors, a large volume of clear material (e.g., water) is surrounded by light-sensitive photomultiplier tubes. A charged lepton produced with sufficient energy creates Cherenkov light which leaves a characteristic ring-like pattern of activity on the array of photomultiplier tubes. This pattern can be used to infer direction, energy, and (sometimes) flavor information about the incident neutrino. Two water-filled detectors of this type (Kamiokande and IMB) recorded the neutrino burst from supernova 1987a. The largest such detector is the water-filled Super-Kamiokande.

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) uses heavy water. In addition to the neutrino interactions available in a regular water detector, the deuterium in the heavy water can be broken up by a neutrino. The resulting free neutron is subsequently captured, releasing a burst of gamma rays which are detected. All three neutrino flavors participate equally in this dissociation reaction.

The MiniBooNE detector employs pure mineral oil as its detection medium. Mineral oil is a natural scintillator, so charged particles without sufficient energy to produce Cherenkov light can still produce scintillation light. This allows low energy muons and protons, invisible in water, to be detected.

Tracking calorimeters such as the MINOS detectors (see the NuMI-MINOS project page) use alternating planes of absorber material and detector material. The absorber planes provide detector mass while the detector planes provide the tracking information. Steel is a popular absorber choice, being relatively dense and inexpensive and having the advantage that it can be magnetised. The NoFailed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \nu} a proposal suggests the use of particle board as a cheap way of getting a large amount of less dense mass. The active detector is often liquid or plastic scintillator, read out with photomultiplier tubes, although various kinds of ionisation chambers have also been used. Tracking calorimeters are only useful for high energy (GeV range) neutrinos. At these energies, neutral current interactions appear as a shower of hadronic debris and charged current interactions are identified by the presence of the charged lepton's track (possibly alongside some form of hadronic debris.) A muon produced in a charged current interaction leaves a long penetrating track and is easy to spot. The length of this muon track and its curvature in the magnetic field provide energy and charge (Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \mu^+} versus Failed to parse (MathML with SVG or PNG fallback (recommended for modern browsers and accessibility tools): Invalid response ("Math extension cannot connect to Restbase.") from server "":): {\displaystyle \mu^-} ) information. An electron in the detector produces an electromagnetic shower which can be distinguished from hadronic showers if the granularity of the active detector is small compared to the physical extent of the shower. Tau leptons decay essentially immediately to either pions or another charged lepton, and can't be observed directly in this kind of detector. (To directly observe taus, one typically looks for a kink in tracks in photographic emulsion.)

Most neutrino experiments must address the flux of cosmic rays that bombard the earth's surface. The higher energy (>50 MeV or so) neutrino experiments often cover or surround the primary detector with a "veto" detector which reveals when a cosmic ray passes into the primary detector, allowing the corresponding activity in the primary detector to be ignored ("vetoed"). For lower energy experiments, the cosmic rays are not directly the problem. Instead, the spallation neutrons and radioisotopes produced by the cosmic rays may mimic the desired physics signals. For these experiments, the solution is to locate the detector deep underground so that the earth above can reduce the cosmic ray rate to tolerable levels.

Some neutrino detectors are:

Motivation for scientific interest in the neutrino

The neutrino is of scientific interest because it can make an exceptional probe for environments that are typically concealed from the standpoint of other observation techniques, such as optical and radio observation.

The first such use of neutrinos was proposed in the early 20th century for observation of the core of the Sun. Direct optical observation of the solar core is impossible due to the diffusion of electromagnetic radiation by the huge amount of matter surrounding the core. On the other hand, neutrinos generated in stellar fusion reactions are very weakly interacting and therefore pass right through the sun with few or no interactions. While photons emitted by the solar core may require 1,000 years to diffuse to the outer layers of the Sun, neutrinos are virtually unimpeded and cross this distance at nearly the speed of light.

Neutrinos are also useful for probing astrophysical sources beyond our solar system. Neutrinos are the only known particles that are not significantly attenuated by their travel through the interstellar medium. Optical photons can be obscured or diffused by dust, gas and background radiation. High-energy cosmic rays, in the form of fast-moving protons and atomic nuclei, are not able to travel more than about 100 megaparsecs due to the GZK cutoff. Neutrinos can travel this distance, and greater distances, with very little attenuation.

The galactic core of the Milky Way is completely obscured by dense gas and numerous bright objects. However, it is likely that neutrinos produced in the galactic core will be measurable by Earth-based neutrino telescopes in the next decade.

The most important use of the neutrino is in the observation of supernovae, the explosions that end the lives of highly massive stars. The core collapse phase of a supernova is an almost unimaginably dense and energetic event. It is so dense that no known particles are able to escape the advancing core front except for neutrinos. Consequently, supernovae are known to release approximately 99% of their energy in a rapid (10 second) burst of neutrinos. As a result, the usefulness of neutrinos as a probe for this important event in the death of a star can not be overstated.

Determining the mass of the neutrino (see above) is also an important test of cosmology (see dark matter). Many other important uses of the neutrino may be imagined in the future. It is clear that the astrophysical significance of the neutrino as an observational technique is comparable with all other known techniques, and is therefore a major focus of study in astrophysical communities.

In particle physics the main virtue of studying neutrinos is that they are typically the lowest mass, and hence lowest energy examples of particles theorized in extensions of the standard model of particle physics. For example, one would expect that if there is a fourth class of fermions beyond the electron, muon, and taon generations of particles, that a fourth generation neutrino would be the easiest to generate in a particle accellerator.

Neutrinos are also obvious candidates for use in studying quantum gravity effects. Because they are not affected by either the strong nuclear force or electromagnetism, and because they are not normally found in composite particles (unlike quarks) or prone to near instantenous decay (like many other standard model particles) it is easier to isolate and measure gravitational effects on neutrinos at a quantum level.

See also


  • Griffiths, David J. (1987). Introduction to Elementary Particles, Wiley, John & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0471603864.
  • Perkins, Donald H. (1999). Introduction to High Energy Physics, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521621968.
  • Tipler, Paul; Llewellyn, Ralph (2002). Modern Physics (4th ed.), W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0716743450.

External links


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