The new instrument is expected to help scientists measure the mass of a neutrino -- something that has not been done accurately so far.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new tabletop instrument that can detect individual electrons in a radioactive gas. The development of the new particle detector is being considered as a major step toward measuring the mass of a neutrino, a particle smaller than an atom and with no electrical charge.
As a radioactive gas decays and emits electrons, the detector -- created as part of an experiment dubbed “Project 8” -- uses a magnet to trap them in a magnetic bottle. A radio antenna then catches very weak signals released by the electrons, which, according to scientists, can be used to accurately map the electrons’ activity over several milliseconds. The latest findings were published in the journal Physical Review Letters on Monday.
“We can literally image the frequency of the electron, and we see this electron suddenly pop into our radio antenna,” Joe Formaggio, an associate professor of physics at MIT, said in a statement. “Over time, the frequency changes, and actually chirps up. So these electrons are chirping in radio waves.”
As part of the new study, the researchers recorded the activity of more than 100,000 individual electrons in Krypton gas. According to them, the newly developed instrument can help measure the mass of a neutrino, which is believed to be extremely difficult to detect as it does not appear to interact with ordinary matter.