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Research Highlight

Analog-to-Digital Nonlinearity Correction Enables Advances in Neutrino Physics

The neutrino is an elementary particle that is one of the most abundant in the universe. Its exact mass is unknown, but it is well understood to be very small. Neutrinos rarely interact with other forms of matter. However, they may hold the secret to the abundance of matter over antimatter in our observable universe. The first step in unlocking this secret is the observation of an extremely rare nuclear process, which demands an ultra-sensitive radiation detector with nearly perfect electronics. Researchers employed a correction to improve the precision of modern electronics and enhance the data-taking ability of experiments in their quest to understand the nature of the neutrino.

An ultra-sensitive radiation detector essentially measures energy. When seeking one of the rarest nuclear processes, a precise energy measurement will leave no doubt about the identity of the responsible source. One challenge is maintaining a high level of precision over a wide energy range to collect as comprehensive a set of signatures as possible. The new correction to a well-known issue in readout electronics has elevated the operation of the detector to a world-leading energy precision. Such high precision yields the primary means to discover a new process from among the background interference.

The Majorana Demonstrator is an experiment that operated until March 2021 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota. It was designed to search for a hypothetical nuclear process called neutrinoless double-beta decay. If this process were to be observed, the absence of the neutrinos in this decay would signal their true nature and the role they played in the formation of the universe. Detection of this rare process relies on a relatively simple signature based on the released energy. The technology behind the Majorana Demonstrator detector was chosen for its superb energy precision, in addition to several other capabilities necessary to definitively detect neutrinoless double-beta decay. While the detector itself can produce a signal of excellent precision, the digitization of that signal introduces an error by way of a nonlinearity between the measured and actual energy. By measuring the error and introducing a simple algorithm to the data, the effect can be corrected to recover the superb energy performance of the detector. Such an achievement is one of several advances necessary for a viable search for neutrinoless double-beta decay and the nature of the neutrino.

Abgrall N., et al. (Majorana Collaboration), IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science 68 359 (2021). [DOI: 10.1109/TNS.2020.3043671]