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Astrophysicist Looks to Stars to Uncover Neutrino’s Secrets

A North Carolina State University astrophysicist hopes to gain better understanding of one of nature’s most elusive particles – neutrinos – as well as the supernovae that spawn them.

Dr. James Kneller, professor of physics at NC State, has received a five-year, $750,000 Early Career Research Program grant from the Department of Energy to study how neutrinos interact with one another in extremely hot and dense environments, such as those found in galactic supernovae.

Neutrinos come in one of three types which scientists refer to as “flavors.” Over the past decade, physicists have found that a neutrino’s flavor is not fixed at the moment it is created; rather neutrinos can change from one flavor to another as they move along. By determining how and why this flavor mixing occurs, scientists will be able to gain a better understanding of the forces at work inside galactic supernovae, and will also be able to fill in some of the blanks concerning the properties of neutrinos.

Kneller’s project involves improving the way scientists detect neutrino signals. This could help researchers analyze the particles more accurately and gain critical insight into both the particles themselves and what happens in the core of a star during a supernova explosion.

The Department of Physics is part of North Carolina State University’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

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