Researchers from the University of Rochester and North Carolina State University have communicated a message through 240 meters of stone (780 feet) using a beam of neutrinos for the very first time, a press release from the University of Rochester reveals.
Neutrinos are nearly massless particles that travel close to the speed of light. When the neutrinos were beamed through the 780 feet of stone, the message on the other side said, “Neutrino.” The research group has sent its findings to the journal Modern Physics Letters A.
“Using neutrinos, it would be possible to communicate between any two points on Earth without using satellites or cables,” said Dan Stancil, professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University and the lead author of a paper describing the research, in a press release. “Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today’s systems, but may have important strategic uses,” Mr. Stancil argued.
There are numerous uses for neutrino communication, because neutrinos can penetrate almost anything they confront. Neutrino technology could be used in submarines, for example, to communicate over long distances through water. Even with modern technology, communicating over long distances through water is extremely difficult.
Perhaps the most interesting use of neutrino communication would be the ability to send messages to the far side of the moon or a planet. A beam of neutrinos would be able to travel straight through without encumbrance. The deployment of this type of technology, however, will not be practical for many years.
Neutrino communication could also have significant implications for the military. The ability to communicate messages over long distances through solid materials and liquids could be an important tool for the military.
“Of course, our current technology takes massive amounts of high-tech equipment to communicate a message using neutrinos, so this isn’t practical now,” said Kevin McFarland, a University of Rochester physics professor who was involved in the experiment, in a press release. “But the first step toward someday using neutrinos for communication in a practical application is a demonstration using today’s technology,” Mr. McFarland added.
In September 2011, researchers tested the speed of neutrinos and discovered that they can travel faster than the speed of light. If the experiment’s findings were to hold up to quality checks, the results would contradict a famous principle of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity: Nothing can exceed the speed of light. Fortunately for Mr. Einstein, the experimenters may have miscalculated the speed of the neutrinos. In February, the OPERA team noted that their data may be invalid due to several issues with the way the speed of the neutrinos was measured.
The team of scientists conducted their test at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Chicago, Illinois. The researchers utilized one of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators at Fermilab. This particular particle accelerator can construct high-intensity beams of neutrinos by accelerating protons around a 2.5-mile-circumference track and then colliding them with a carbon target. The scientists were also able to take advantage of a multi-ton detector called MINERvA, which is located in a cavern 100 meters underground. The need for high-tech equipment is the primary reason why everyday neutrino communication is an unrealistic concept at this time.
Neutrino communication is markedly different from our normal means of communication. Nearly all communication is conducted by sending and receiving electromagnetic waves. Our radios, cell phones, and televisions operate using this process. Unlike neutrinos, however, electromagnetic waves have a difficult time passing through most types of matter, such as water and other types of liquids and solids. Neutrinos, can pass through entire planets or the moon, without difficulty.
Neutrinos can pass through planets, because they are nearly massless and they have a neutral electric charge. This configuration means that they are not subject to magnetic attractions and are not critically changed by gravity, which allows them to move through solids and liquids without being stopped.
The message sent by scientists through 780 feet of stone using a beam of neutrinos was translated into binary code, meaning that the word “neutrino” was embodied by a series of 1’s and 0’s. In this experiment, 1’s signaled a group of neutrinos being fired and the o’s signaled no neutrinos being fired.
Scientist fired the neutrinos in large groups, because even a multi-ton detector cannot detect all of the neutrinos. In fact, only about one in ten billion neutrinos are detected. A computer was used to translate the binary code back into English.
“Neutrinos have been an amazing tool to help us learn about the workings of both the nucleus and the universe,” said Deborah Harris, Minerva project manager, in a press release, adding that “neutrino communication has a long way to go before it will be as effective.”