University of Rochester

Rochester Researchers Involved in One of Top 10 Physics Breakthroughs of the Year

December 14, 2012

University of Rochester researchers are part of a collaboration named in Physics World magazine's list of top 10 breakthroughs for 2012.

The group was chosen by the judging team for being the first to demonstrate communications using neutrinos nearly massless particles that travel at almost the speed of light. It involved physicists in the MINERvA experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and engineers from North Carolina State University and NASA Glenn Research Center.

In March this year the group published results showing that they had for the first time sent a message using a beam of neutrinos. The message was sent through 240 meters of stone and said simply, "Neutrino."

Many have theorized about the possible uses of neutrinos in communication because of one particularly valuable property: they can penetrate almost anything they encounter.

"Using neutrinos, it would be possible to communicate between any two points on Earth without using satellites or cables," said Dan Stancil, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and lead author of the paper describing the research. "Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today's systems, but may have important strategic uses."

"Our current technology takes massive amounts of high-tech equipment to communicate a message using neutrinos, so this isn't practical now," Kevin McFarland, a co-spokesperson for the MINERvA experiment and University of Rochester physics professor, explained at the time. "But the first step toward someday using neutrinos for communication in a practical application is a demonstration using today's technology."

McFarland was one of 18 Rochester researchers that were involved in the project. The team also included professors Arie Bodek and Steve Manly, two senior scientists, four research associates, two engineers and seven Ph.D. students.

The top 10 breakthroughs were chosen by the Physics World team that reviewed over 350 news articles about advances in the physical sciences published on in 2012. The criteria for judging included:

  • Fundamental importance of research
  • Significant advance in knowledge
  • Strong connection between theory and experiment
  • General interest to all physicists

MINERvA is an international collaboration of nuclear and particle physicists from 21 institutions that study neutrino behavior using a detector located at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago. This is the first neutrino experiment to use a high-intensity beam to create side-by-side comparison of the reactions of neutrinos with nuclei of five different target materials. The data is helping to improve our model of interactions within atomic nuclei and will allow more clear interpretation of current and future neutrino experiments.