For the first time, scientists including Joshua Spitz, the U-M Norman M. Leff Assistant Professor of Physics and U-M Physics graduate students, Rory Fitzpatrick and Johnathon Jordan, have probed the nucleus using a previously unobserved source of known-energy neutrinos. Rutherford originally discovered the atomic nucleus by shooting alpha particles at gold foil. Ever since, electron scattering has been scientists’ primary tool for understanding internal nuclear processes. The prescription is simple: Take a beam of known-energy electrons, shoot them at a nucleus, and see what happens. The energy transferred to the nucleus—that is, the initial electron energy minus the outgoing electron energy—provides a window into the structure of the nucleus, the behavior of the nucleons inside, and the underlying interaction itself.
Scientists working on the MiniBooNE experiment at Fermilab have just reported measurements of the energy transferred to a carbon nucleus using known-energy neutrinos. These results, which are complementary to previous and continuing work on electron scattering, demonstrate a unique channel for studying the nucleus through the weak interaction only. This work also represents a crucial step toward elucidating the neutrino-nucleus interaction and improving neutrino oscillation experiments.
The paper is published in Physics Review Letters as an "Editor's Suggestion".