Two small-scale experiments may be able to outperform the giant machines chasing new physics evidence—and so enhance cancer therapy.

Experiments have discovered anomalies that point to the existence of a new form of neutrino, one that would defy the conventional model of particle physics and maybe open a door to the dark sector. However, no direct observation of this putative particle has ever been made.

A quantum dark matter detector and a planned particle accelerator based on machine learning are now on the verge of proving the existence of the sterile neutrino.

There is a direct link between technology that can be used to comprehend our cosmos and technology that can be utilized to save people’s lives

According to the MIT team that created it, the IsoDAR cyclotron would provide 10 times more beam current than any existing machine. The cyclotron, which has a modest subterranean footprint, might provide definite indications of sterile neutrinos in five years.

At the same time, that powerful beam could be able to tackle a fundamental difficulty in cancer treatment generating enough radioactive isotopes to kill cancer cells and scan tumors. The beam has the potential to create large quantities of medicinal isotopes, as well as allowing hospitals and smaller laboratories to produce their own.

“There is a direct link between technology that can be used to comprehend our cosmos and technology that can be utilized to save people’s lives,” said Loyd Waites, an MIT PhD candidate who will speak on the ideas at the APS Division of Nuclear Physics’ Fall Meeting in 2021.

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One of the most powerful sterile neutrino hunters in the world is equipped with only a single detector. The BeEST (pronounced “beast”) experiment may appear to be massive, yet it only utilizes one quantum sensor to monitor nuclear recoils caused by a neutrino’s “kick.”

This technique looks for the mystery particle without having to worry about its interactions with ordinary stuff. After only one month of testing, a new benchmark has been developed that spans a wide mass range and may be used in much larger sterile neutrino studies like KATRIN.

“This preliminary work already excludes the existence of this type of sterile neutrino up to 10 times better than all previous decay experiments,” Kyle Leach, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Mines, said at the meeting, presenting the first round of results (recently published in Physical Review Letters).

The BeEST is also the first project to effectively employ beryllium-7, which is considered as the best atomic nucleus for the sterile neutrino search. It is a cooperation of 30 scientists from ten universities across North America and Europe. The BeEST system will be scaled up to many more sensors utilizing new superconducting materials in the future.


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