Observation of coherent elastic neutrino-nucleus scattering

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Science  15 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6356, pp. 1123-1126
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao0990

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Nailing down an elusive process

Detecting neutrinos—elementary particles that barely interact with other matter—usually requires detectors of enormous size. A particular interaction of neutrinos with atomic nuclei, called the coherent elastic neutrino-nucleus scattering (CEνNS), is predicted to occur with relatively high probability, and it could be used to drastically reduce the size of neutrino detectors. However, observing this interaction requires a source of low-energy neutrinos and detectors that contain nuclei of optimal mass. Akimov et al. observed CEνNS with a 6.7σ confidence by using a comparatively tiny, 14.6-kg sodium-doped CsI scintillator exposed to neutrinos from a spallation neutron facility (see the Perspective by Link). The discovery places tighter bounds on exotic, beyond-the-standard-model interactions involving neutrinos.

Science, this issue p. 1123; see also p. 1098


The coherent elastic scattering of neutrinos off nuclei has eluded detection for four decades, even though its predicted cross section is by far the largest of all low-energy neutrino couplings. This mode of interaction offers new opportunities to study neutrino properties and leads to a miniaturization of detector size, with potential technological applications. We observed this process at a 6.7σ confidence level, using a low-background, 14.6-kilogram CsI[Na] scintillator exposed to the neutrino emissions from the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Characteristic signatures in energy and time, predicted by the standard model for this process, were observed in high signal-to-background conditions. Improved constraints on nonstandard neutrino interactions with quarks are derived from this initial data set.

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