From atoms to astronomy : new approaches in neutrino physics




Jerkins, Melissa Travis

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In this thesis I present research in neutrino physics utilizing tools from both atomic physics and astrophysics. Recent advances in atomic physics enable a new type of beta decay experiment to measure the absolute mass scale of the neutrino using a sample of ultracold atomic tritium. These initial conditions enable the detection of the helium ion in coincidence with the beta. I construct a two-dimensional fit incorporating both the shape of the beta spectrum and the direct reconstruction of the neutrino mass peak. I present simulation results of the feasible limits on the neutrino mass achievable in this new type of tritium beta decay experiment. The same advances in atomic physics that enable the creation of an atomic source for tritium beta decay also suggest a new method of achieving large-scale isotope separation. Multiple experiments that are investigating the absolute mass scale of the neutrino through neutrinoless double beta decay could benefit from this new technique, which applies generally to many elements, including the double beta emitter Nd-150 that is particularly difficult to separate in large quantities. The method is based on an irreversible change of the mass-to-magnetic moment ratio of a particular isotope in a supersonic atomic beam, followed by a magnetic multipole whose gradients deflect and guide the atoms. I present numerical simulations of isotope separation for a range of examples and demonstrate that large-scale isotope separation should be possible using ordinary inexpensive magnets and the existing technologies of supersonic beams and lasers. Additionally I report results from a search for low-multiplicity neutrino bursts in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). Such bursts could indicate detection of a nearby core-collapse supernova explosion. The data were taken from November 1999 to May 2001 when the detector was filled with heavy water (Phase I), as well as data from July 2001 to August 2003 when NaCl was added to the detector (Phase II). The search was a blind analysis in which the potential backgrounds were estimated and analysis cuts were developed to eliminate such backgrounds with 90% confidence before the data were examined. The search maintained a greater than 50% detection probability for standard supernovae occurring at a distance of up to 60 kpc for Phase I and up to 70 kpc for Phase II. No low-multiplicity bursts were observed during the data-taking period.




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