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K-State Today

November 2, 2021

K-State research part of work providing new clues in neutrino mystery

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Work by Kansas State University physics graduate students, postdocs and faculty has played a role in a major announcement by the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory that deals a blow to a theoretical particle known as the sterile neutrino.

For more than two decades, this proposed fourth neutrino has remained a promising explanation for anomalies seen in earlier physics experiments. Finding a new particle would be a major discovery and a radical shift in our understanding of the universe. But with sterile neutrinos disfavored as the explanation for anomalies spotted in neutrino data, scientists are investigating other possibilities.

The K-State physics researchers are part of the international experiment known as MicroBooNE that studied if the sterile neutrino did exist. MicroBooNE is a 170-ton neutrino detector roughly the size of a school bus. The project has involved nearly 200 researchers from 36 institutions in five countries.

Involved in the project since 2009, the K-State researchers contributed to development and construction of the experiment and then to data collection and analysis.

The doctoral theses of former K-State graduate students Munerah Alrashed and Aleena Rafique both tested the accuracy of the model for neutrino interactions used by MicroBooNE.

Former K-State graduate student Varuna Meddage's work was key to the conversion of detector signals into accurate measurements of the energy deposited by particles, which was necessary for both the particle identification and particle energy measurements used in the recent results.

Former K-State postdoc R. Kreswell Neeley served as run coordinator for the project, and former postdoc Sowjanya Gollapinni made major contributions to the detector control system, understanding of the detector performance and cosmic ray backgrounds and neutrino interaction studies.

Glenn Horton-Smith, professor of physics, advised Meddage, worked with Gollapinni on detector controls and served several leadership roles within the collaboration, including contributing to the editing of several papers.

Tim Bolton, professor of physics, advised Alrashed and Rafique and served several roles within the collaboration, including on the internal editorial boards for several papers.

Read more about the MicroBooNE project and discovery.