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If you’re eating a scoop of vanilla ice cream, you’d be surprised if it turned itself to chocolate or strawberry. But nature performs this bit of alchemy all the time. The tiny particles known as neutrinos come in three forms, known as flavors. And they can transform themselves from one flavor to another. Finding out how that works can reveal important details about the nature of matter.
Neutrinos are everywhere. They’re produced in the nuclear reactions in the hearts of stars, among other places, so trillions of them pass through your body every second. But they almost never interact with normal matter, so they’re hard to catch.
A new experiment, known as DUNE, should catch more than ever before. It will use four 10,000-ton vats of liquid argon in a mine in South Dakota to catch a beam of neutrinos from a lab in Illinois. A detector at the lab will count the number of neutrinos of each flavor that are beamed out. The detector in South Dakota will also count the neutrinos. Any change will reveal how many neutrinos changed flavors during the trip.
From that, scientists hope to determine the mass of each flavor. Such details may help explain why the universe is made mainly of matter instead of antimatter, even though equal amounts of both should have been created in the Big Bang. The experiment could even reveal other flavors of neutrinos.
Construction began in July. If all goes well, DUNE will be catching neutrinos in a decade.
Script by Damond Benningfield