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Nominations for Physics Slam 2015 due Aug. 17

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Women's Initiative: "Guiltless: Work/Life Balance" - Aug. 13

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Python Programming Advanced - Dec. 9-11

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Press Release

Fermilab experiment sees neutrinos change over 500 miles

The NOvA experiment's first physics results are in. Scientists have observed neutrino oscillations. Image: Fermilab/Sandbox Studio

Scientists on the NOvA experiment saw their first evidence of oscillating neutrinos, confirming that the extraordinary detector built for the project not only functions as planned but is also making great progress toward its goal of a major leap in our understanding of these ghostly particles.

NOvA is on a quest to learn more about the abundant yet mysterious particles called neutrinos, which flit through ordinary matter as though it weren't there. The first NOvA results, released this week at the American Physical Society's Division of Particles and Fields conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, verify that the experiment's massive particle detector — 50 feet tall, 50 feet wide and 200 feet long — is sitting in the sweet spot and detecting neutrinos fired from 500 miles away. Scientists have sorted through millions of cosmic ray strikes and zeroed in on neutrino interactions.

"People are ecstatic to see our first observation of neutrino oscillations," said NOvA co-spokesperson Peter Shanahan of the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. "For all the people who worked over the course of a decade on the designing, building, commissioning and operating this experiment, it's beyond gratifying."

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In Brief

Eagle scouts and Fermilab give Kane County chimney swift population a boost

From left: Ryan Campbell (FESS), Benjamin Haberthur (Veterans Conservation Corps of Chicagoland), scout Theo Li and Dave Shemanske (FESS) stand in front of one of three chimney swift towers built by Boy Scout Troop 3 on Fermilab grounds. Photo: Ali Sundermier, OC

Boy Scout Troop 3 of Elgin has built three chimney swift towers on the Fermilab site with the help of the laboratory's Roads and Grounds Department. Eagle Scout candidate Theo Li led the effort.

The scouts' project is part of a strong push across Kane County to bring the chimney swift population to sustainable levels. According to a 2014 Chicago Tribune article, the number of these small gray birds has dropped 80 percent in Illinois since the 1960s. The scouts spent a total of 488 hours building and installing towers around Kane County to give the birds a place to nest.

The Veterans Conservation Corps of Chicagoland provided the supplies to build the towers, and the scouts raised additional funds to purchase extra materials. Roads and Grounds helped the local Eagle Scout troop organize their construction at the lab.

Planning for the project began last year, and in April, the scouts began building the towers off site. In June they finished building and installing the towers, which are 14-and-a-half feet tall.

"Jim Kalina, Ryan Campbell and the rest of Fermilab Roads and Grounds were a huge help in building these towers," Li said. "I appreciate the VCC of Chicagoland, the Kane County Audubon Society and Fermilab for letting me do this project."

In Brief

The bathroom is back and better than ever

On Thursday, Fermilab COO Tim Meyer held a ribbon cutting for the renovated bathroom in the Wilson Hall atrium. From left: Kim Mazur (OC), Andrew Federowicz (FESS), Tim Meyer, Kate Sienkiewicz (FESS), Lauren Biron (OC). Photo: Reidar Hahn

Trumpet, please: The Wilson Hall atrium-level restroom is once again open and operational.

After four months of wall demolition, plumbing renovation and tile installation, the updated bathroom now features airport-style entries, modern bathroom fixtures and hot-air hand dryers. Note that the locations of the women's and men's bathrooms now are reversed.

Thanks to FESS and the directorate for this very welcome upgrade.

In the News

Tiny black holes could trigger collapse of universe — except that they don't

From Science, Aug. 3, 2015

If you like classic two-for-one monster movies such as King Kong vs. Godzilla, then a new paper combining two bêtes noires of pseudoscientific scaremongers — mini black holes and the collapse of the vacuum—may appeal to you. Physicists working with the world's biggest atom-smasher — Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — have had to reassure the public that, even if they can make them, mini black holes, infinitesimal versions of the ones that form when jumbo stars implode, won't consume the planet. They've also had to dispel fears that blasting out a particle called the Higgs boson will cause the vacuum of empty space to collapse. Now, however, three theorists calculate that in a chain reaction, a mini black hole could trigger such collapse after all.

Come out from under the bed; there's a big caveat. If this could have happened, it would have long before humans evolved.

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Frontier Science Result: NOvA

NOvA sees electron neutrinos

This event in the NOvA far detector in Minnesota, shown from two different viewpoints, is a candidate electron neutrino interaction.

Neutrino physicists have had a rich and storied relationship with the little neutral ones. First suggested by Wolfgang Pauli as a solution to the problem of missing energy in radioactive decay these light neutral particles have always proven to be as frustrating as they are fascinating. Pauli himself famously said, "I have done a terrible thing, I have postulated a particle that cannot be detected."

But detect it physicists did, and we found it to be even stranger than we first expected. Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that neutrinos change among the seemingly distinct types as they travel. Physicists around the world and at Fermilab have made much progress in understanding these neutrino oscillations, but key questions remain unanswered. Does the ordering of neutrino masses match our intuition based on what we know of other families of particles, or is it inverted? Do neutrinos oscillate the same as antineutrinos? These questions are themselves compelling and tie in to grander theories. For example, leptogenesis seeks to explain why our universe has far more matter than antimatter.

Many experiments have worked to answer these questions. At Fermilab the NuMI muon neutrino beam enables a program of study of neutrino oscillations. Over the long journey from Fermilab to northern Minnesota, these neutrinos change type. The MINOS experiment has already used this beam to study the disappearance of muon neutrinos. The NOvA experiment is now providing another key piece of the puzzle by studying the appearance of electron neutrinos.

In many ways the entire NOvA experiment was optimized to see electron neutrino appearance. The detector has a high resolution and is instrumented with specialized photodetectors such that it can resolve the key signatures of an electron neutrino interaction. Excellent timing systems allow us to disentangle neutrino beam events from cosmic activity. The NuMI beam is operating at its highest-ever power to provide as many neutrinos as possible to the experiment, and the detector is off the main axis of the NuMI beam so it sees neutrinos at the perfect energy.

The first measurement of electron neutrino appearance by NOvA has also required a complex analysis of our data, using sophisticated image processing algorithms trained on large sets of simulated data to pull out a pure sample of electron neutrino candidates and data-driven studies using beam and cosmic events at our near and far detectors. Four graduate students will earn their doctorates with their work on this result, and more have made significant contributions.

The first appearance result, presented at Thursday's Joint Experimental-Theoretical Seminar, shows six events selected with our primary analysis and 11 with our secondary analysis, with an expected background of approximately one in each case. This observation proves conclusively that the NOvA experiment can measure electron neutrino appearance and confirms oscillations at greater than 3 sigma with our primary analysis or 5 sigma with our secondary analysis. While this first result represents one-twelfth of the final exposure, it has already reached excellent agreement with measurements from existing experiments such as MINOS and T2K.

NOvA has shown that it will be able to contribute significantly to the world's knowledge of neutrino oscillations in the coming decade. It also represents a start of another exciting road as we set out to make the best possible use of world-class detectors and a world-class beam to provide leading discoveries using electron neutrino appearance.

Alexander Radovic, College of William and Mary

These physicists contributed to this analysis. Top row, from left: Erika Catano Mur, Iowa State University; Ji Liu, College of William and Mary; Evan Niner, Indiana University. Bottom row, from left: Daniel Pershey, California Institute of Technology, Kanika Sachdev, University of Minnesota; Tian Xin, Iowa State University.
Photo of the Day

Lightning strikes again

It's the sequel to last month's lightning show. This picture of Sunday's lightning storm was taken at the intersection of Batavia and Eola roads, where one could watch it light up the Fermilab site. Photo: David Caratelli, Columbia University
In the News

Plan for supersized entanglement is unveiled by physicist

From Physics World, Aug. 3, 2015

An experiment that could lead to the quantum-mechanical entanglement of everyday objects in the form of two 100 g mirrors has been proposed by Roman Schnabel of the University of Hamburg and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany. If successful, the mirrors would be by far the largest objects ever to be entangled, and the experiment would confirm that quantum physics applies to large and heavy objects, not just tiny particles. It could also test a prediction made in 2010 about how the mutual gravitational attraction of the mirrors affects their entanglement.

Entanglement is a purely quantum-mechanical phenomenon that allows two particles, such as photons or electrons, to have a much closer relationship than is predicted by classical physics.

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