Science-- there's something for everyone

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Message by Neutrino


Daniel Stancil from North Carolina State University and more than a hundred colleagues from all across the globe have sent the world’s first neutrino message.  That is, they sent a message composed solely of subatomic particles called neutrinos, rather than of electromagnetic waves or paper.

Communicating by neutrino certainly has advantages.  For one thing, neutrinos are unimpeded by physical objects. That means that if you want to send a message to the other side of the Earth, you can just aim your neutrinos straight through the ground. No need for satellites or connecting cables. We’d never have to wait for our Mars rovers to be on the right side of the planet to send them instructions.  Also, because neutrinos are virtually mass-less, gravity has little affect on them. They just keep going in a straight line regardless of what’s in their path.

Unfortunately, you need some heavy-duty equipment to send a message by neutrino, including a particle accelerator at one end and an extremely powerful detector at the other. Needless to say, you won’t be trading in your mobile phone anytime soon. 

Thus far, the researchers have only sent a single word, which fittingly enough was ‘neutrino’. They used a binary code of firing and not firing pulses of neutrinos to represent each letter, kind of like the dots and dashes used in Morse code.  It took them over two and a half hours to send and decode that message and achieved an overall data transmission rate of 0.1 Hz. To put that in perspective, you’re probably reading this on a device that's at least a million times faster.  As the authors admit, “significant improvements in neutrino beams and detectors [are] required for practical applications.”