Subatomic Snowflake

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Check out Fermilab’s 2009 holiday card, featuring a pretty snowflake inspired by… particle tracks? Why, yes, indeed! (h/t: Symmetry Breaking) While everyone else was on pins and needles waiting for the Large Hadron Collider to start up again, Fermilab was quietly going about its business with the Argon Neutrino Teststand, or ArgoNeuT experiment.

In July, ArgoNeuT experiment made a few headlines in science magazines when it recorded signature particle tracks from neutrinos in its detector — the first ever seen in a liquid-argon detector in the United States. It looked like this:

From an article in Fermilab Today:

ArgoNeuT, a small, 175-liter, liquid-argon-filled detector, sits upstream of the MINOS detector in the neutrino beamline. Neutrinos from the NuMI beamline enter the ArgoNeuT detector chamber and interact with argon atoms. The interactions produce light and charged particles, which continue to travel through the argon and knock electrons loose. A wire plane attracts these electrons, which induce electrical signals. The data collected helps scientists reconstruct a 3-D image of the original interaction event.

The article goes on to quote grad student Brian Page of Michigan State University: “Liquid-argon detectors can achieve high accuracy in determining the

type of particle interaction. Because of this, they are very good at

rejecting background events. These detectors can also get the same

measurements as much larger detectors that use different technologies.”

Someone over at Fermilab noticed some striking similarities to a snowflake in the above image of a neutrino’s tracks, and the result is below. Happy holidays, everyone!