Applications of Neutrinos

The neutrino is a tiny elementary particle, but it is not part of the atom. They exist in nature. Neutrino has a very tiny mass, no charge and spins half. It interacts very weakly with other matter particles so weakly that every second trillions of neutrinos fall on us and pass through our bodies unnoticed.

  • Neutrinos come from the sun (solar neutrinos) and other stars, cosmic rays and they can also be produced in the lab.
  • Neutrinos come in three types or “flavours” – electron neutrino, tau neutrino and muon neutrino.
  • They can change from one flavor to another as they travel. This process is called neutrino oscillation and is an unusual quantum phenomenon.

Production of atmospheric neutrons in nature

  • Atmospheric neutrinos are produced from cosmic rays which consist of protons and heavy nuclei. These collide with atmospheric molecules such as Nitrogen to give off pions and muons which further decay to produce neutrinos.
Applications of neutrinos

100 years ago, when the electron was discovered, it had no foreseeable uses. Today, a world without electronics cannot be imagined. Hence basic sciences research is needed to understand the properties of particles before they can be applied.

Understanding of Sun

The visible light that reaches earth from the sun is emitted from the surface of the sun. The neutrinos which also take close to this time to reach us from the sun, known as solar neutrinos, were produced in the core of the sun. Therefore they give us information about the interior of the sun. Studying these neutrinos can help us understand what goes on in the interior of the sun.

Understanding of universe

Light coming from distant stars can be studied by astronomers, for example, to detect new planets. Light is the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, other parts are used in for example radio astronomy. Likewise, if the properties of neutrinos are understood better, they can be used in astronomy to discover what the universe is made up of.

Probing early universe

Neutrinos interact very little with the matter around them, so they travel long distances uninterrupted. Since they take time to cross these distances, they are in effect uninterrupted for very long times. The extragalactic neutrinos we observe may be coming from the distant past. These inviolate messengers can give us a clue about the origin of the universe and the early stages of the infant universe, soon after the Big Bang.

Medical Imaging

Apart from direct future uses of neutrinos, there are technological applications of the detectors that will be used to study them. For instance, X-ray machines, PET scans, MRI scans, etc., all came out of research into particle detectors. Hence the INO detectors may have applications in medical imaging.

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