Cover stories: Making the neutrino scattering cover

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Science  15 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6356, eaap9023
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9023

Cover stories offer a look at the process behind the art on the cover: who made it, how it got made, and why.

I was not sure that we would be able to shoot a cover photograph for the paper on neutrino detection in this issue. Often, neutrino detectors are sprawling devices, buried deep underground and difficult to portray in the kind of compelling image demanded for a cover.

But when University of Chicago professor Juan Collar sent me a picture of his prototype detector (Fig. 1), I was intrigued. Measuring just 24 inches high, it had a Victorian-era quality, blending old and new in fascinating ways. Ancient lead recovered from a Spanish galleon shielded the modern photomultiplier from electronic emissions. Ultrapure copper encapsulated the scintillator.

Fig. 1 Photo: Juan Collar/University of Chicago

Working with Collar and University of Chicago photographer Jean Lachat, we began determining how to best present the device. “I’m a photojournalist, not a studio photographer,” Lachat noted. “But I’m always up for a challenge. The curved glass and metal reflect light in all sorts of ways. We had to make it look natural, without distractions.”

I suggested light painting, an older technique that involves using a fiber optic “hose” to carefully apply light in small increments to the shiny surfaces, minimizing unwanted reflections. Collar knew of light painting and, to my surprise, owned the necessary equipment.

They set to work. Lachat sent me test shoots. I offered suggestions to refine the results (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Photo: Jean Lachat/University of Chicago

“It took five attempts to get the picture we all liked,” Lachat recalled. “We ended up having five people work on the shoot—Collar; my daughter Jessica, who is 15; and two of our video crew. They helped with the background lighting. Collar and Jessica painted the detector with light while I monitored their progress in the viewfinder.”

Jessica, Lachat says, had the idea to use a small flashlight taped behind the detector, lighting up the central glass area. Collar noted that the effect mimicked the actual physical process of scintillation at play. As a final touch, the flashlight illuminated the bottom glass plate, creating twin highlights and giving Science this week’s cover photograph (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 Photo: Jean Lachat/University of Chicago

Bill Douthitt, Photography Managing Editor at Science

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