Communicating With Neutrinos

Not happy with the mobile phone network? Neutrinos are the way to go! A group of American scientists have achieved the transfer of information using a beam of neutrinos. The process is highly inefficient at the moment, though, with a transfer speed of merely 1 bit/s and the test being over very short distances.

The Minerva Detector at Fermilab

The experiment is ongoing at the NuMI facility at Fermilab. This facility produces some of the most energetic neutrino beams. This teams up with the Minerva detector kept 1km away from the source! The current experiment was performed on this setup

But why neutrino communication?

Neutrinos are very weakly interacting particles in nature. They have often been describes as ‘ghostly’, owing to the difficulty in detecting them. They are uncharged and thus do not interact with the electromagnetic field. Having no mass means that gravity is out of the question, although, even with a small mass, it wouldn’t have played a role.

Neutrinos can pass through hundreds of lightyears of solid lead! It’s not surprising that they should be able to tunnel through the Earth itself. It is due to this unwillingness to interact that neutrinos can be made into effective communication devices. There would be very little disturbance that would pour into the signal.

The problem is this: Neutrinos being very difficult to detect, are also extremely difficult to control. They cannot be collimated (i.e. made parallel) as easily as lightwaves. Similarly, we need a large flux of neutrinos from the source and a very good detector at the receiving end. The detector is not portable. In fact, neutrino detectors are HUGE! (Pic above)

“Neutrinos” using neutrinos

The idea is to modulate the neutrino beam so that a proper piece of information is transmitted. What is the first message to be tranferred? Simple: “Neutrinos”. The modulation bitrate was 0.1 bit/s, which is WAY slower than today’s communication devices. However, the information was transmitted over a few kilometers and the error was less than 1%.

Much work needs to be done! But, Wolfgang Pauli, the father of the neutrino, would be proud.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.