Skip to content

Neutrinos: Cryogenics and the Origins of the Universe


Nathan Kellar
Business Analyst

In the vast area of the universe, there exists a type of particle that challenges the very understanding of the cosmos. Meet the neutrino: a subatomic particle that traverses the universe largely undetected, yet with profound implications for our understanding of particle physics and astrophysics alike.

What are Neutrinos?

One of the most fascinating aspects of neutrinos is their sheer abundance. Trillions of neutrinos stream through your body every second, originating from various sources such as the Sun, cosmic rays, and even nuclear reactions within the Earth.

Neutrinos are unlike electrons or other charged particles, being electrically neutral and incredibly small – hundreds of thousands of times lighter than electrons. So, despite their abundance, neutrinos rarely interact with ordinary matter, passing through it with little to no effect.

These unique particles come in three different flavors: electron, muon, and tau neutrinos, corresponding to the three charged leptons in the Standard Model of particle physics. These flavors can morph into one another through a phenomenon known as neutrino oscillation, a discovery that revolutionized our understanding of particle physics.

How are Neutrinos Detected?

Detecting neutrinos is no small feat; these mysterious particles only have extremely weak interactions with matter, making their detection a significant challenge. Nonetheless, scientists have developed effective methods to capture these particles.

One common approach utilizes large underground or underwater detectors, shielded from other particles that could interfere with measurements. These detectors often use large volumes of liquid or solid material – such as water or heavy elements – to increase the likelihood of a neutrino interaction.

With this approach, cryogenics is typically needed in some capacity to cool and maintain detector temperatures, and minimize noise, thus enhancing the capabilities of the applications being used in these experiments.

Unlocking the Neutrino’s Secrets

A diverse array of experimental techniques have been developed that aim to increase our understanding of neutrinos. One such method involves utilizing massive detectors, like the Super-Kamiokande in Japan or the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica. These experiments not only provide valuable data on neutrino properties, but also offer glimpses into some of the most extreme environments in the universe.

Another approach is to study the behavior of neutrinos over long distances. With this method, researchers can explore the phenomenon of neutrino oscillation and investigate potential deviations from the known laws of physics. Current experiments in this area include the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at Fermilab, which will feature massive liquid argon detectors, and T2K in Japan which sends an intense beam of muon neutrinos from the east coast, across 295 km to western Japan.

The crew at FermiLab moved the 2×2 prototype into place for insertion into the liquid argon cryostat, where it will collect data in the NuMI neutrino beam. Photo: Dan Svoboda, Fermilab.

Neutrinos and Cryogenics

Cryogenic technologies are crucial tools in aiding the pursuit of neutrino knowledge. For example, neutrino experiments like the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE) use cryogenic detectors to capture the faint signals produced by neutrino interactions with matter.

By maintaining detector components at cryogenic temperatures, researchers are able to minimize background noise and maximize sensitivity to detect the elusive neutrino interactions.

Cryomech cryocoolers have long been used in neutrino and dark matter experiments. Prof. Mitch Soderberg from the University of Syracuse’s Neutrino Lab Group elaborates:

“An experiment I worked on in 2008, called ArgoNeuT, featured a small ~500 liter volume of liquid argon cooled by an AL300 Gifford-McMahon Cryocooler.  Lessons we learned from that experiment have helped inform the approach taken for much larger detectors, including the upcoming DUNE detectors which will have multiple ~10 kiloton volumes of liquid argon.  DUNE will enable groundbreaking studies of neutrinos and help particle physicists understand the role these particles have played in the evolution of the universe.”

In addition to the AL300, the AL600 Gifford-McMahon Cryocooler has been used to cool liquid argon cryostats, as it provides 600 W of cooling power at 80 K.

The mutual relationship between neutrino science and cryogenics continues to drive advancements in both fields, paving the way for groundbreaking discoveries about the fundamental building blocks of the universe.

Liquid argon cooling system utilizing a Cryomech AL300 Gifford-McMahon Cryocooler.

Cryogenics in Action

Neutrinos, the most abundant yet elusive particles in the universe, are notoriously difficult to detect due to their weak interaction with matter. Cryocoolers, devices that maintain extremely low temperatures, ultimately provide the ideal environment for sensitive detectors to capture these interactions.

Cryomech’s established product line allows for customer diversity when it comes to research and cryogenic experimentation. From the vibration-sensitive and extremely reliable Pulse Tubes to the powerful Gifford McMahon cryocoolers that range from 10 W all the way to 600 W.

The intersection between Cryomech’s cryogenic technology and neutrino detection opens new avenues for researchers to focus more on their research and less on the cryogenics.

As researchers continue to push the boundaries of both cryogenics and neutrino physics, the relationship between these fields continues to promote new and exciting research as we unlock deeper insights into the world of neutrinos, dark matter, and the origins of the universe. To learn more about the role of Bluefors and Cryomech technology in low temperature physics research, check out our applications pages. For further information on our range of cryocoolers for low temperature research and other uses, please contact our sales engineers.