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A New Form of Matter? PROSPECT-ing for Sterile Neutrinos

The Precision Reactor Oscillation and Spectrum Experiment (PROSPECT) has completed the installation of a novel detector that will probe the possible existence of a new form of matter.

Neutrinos are key components of the standard model of particle physics, a model that is our best current description of the particles and interactions that govern the subatomic world. Standard model neutrinos include three different types (electron, muon, and tau neutrinos), as well as their associated antiparticles, or antineutrinos. Despite what we know about standard model neutrinos, physicists believe that the standard model is incomplete––and that new experiments may uncover the existence of a new form of matter: sterile neutrinos.

Sterile neutrinos are theorized particles that interact with standard model neutrinos through a quantum mechanical process called neutrino oscillation. They would pass undetected through the ordinary matter around us, but their presence would cause standard model neutrinos to deviate from predicted behavior in subtle ways. PROSPECT is searching for these telltale deviations by making careful measurements of electron antineutrinos emitted by a nuclear reactor.

The installation of PROSPECT follows four years of intensive research and development by a collaboration of more than 60 participants from 10 universities and four national laboratories.

In 2016, the Heising-Simons Foundation’s Science program supported the department of physics at Yale University with a $1.5 million grant to enhance the measurement capability of PROSPECT by increasing the detection rate, measurement sensitivity, and physics reach of the experiment.

Following construction and final assembly at the Yale Wright Laboratory, the PROSPECT detector was transported to High Flux Isotope Reactor at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in early 2018.

To learn more about PROSPECT, please visit the Yale Wright Laboratory website.