Jelena Maricic

Early career researcher Jelena Maricic investigates fundamental properties of neutrinos.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Assistant Professor of Physics Jelena Maricic has received a prestigious Early Career Research Program award from the U.S. Department of Energy to search for a new type of elementary particle. This is the first such Department of Energy award for a UH Mānoa faculty member.

The award provides $750,000 in funding over five years that will enable Maricic’s Hawaiʻi team to deploy a very strong radioactive cerium source in the KamLAND detector in Japan to search for oscillations of normal neutrinos into elusive “sterile” neutrinos.

“Large, specialized detectors allow us to identify the three known types of neutrinos, but recent experiments hint at a completely new particle that mixes with these three but otherwise does not interact with matter,” Maricic said. “This is becoming one of the most important topics to be addressed in neutrino physics. The goal of our CeLAND project is to resolve these hints and determine the true nature of this fourth particle.”

Neutrino research

Neutrinos are the most ethereal of all elementary particles and interact only by weak forces. About 65 billion neutrinos from the Sun pass through the human body each second without leaving a trace.

Sterile neutrinos, if proven to exist, would shed light on a new physics beyond the well-established standard model.

Along with CeLAND collaborators from Japan, France and the United States, Maricic plans to install a 2800 trillion Becquerel electron antineutrino source in the existing KamLAND detector. The CeLAND project will search for sterile neutrino oscillations in a phase space suggested by observed reactor antineutrino anomalies.

Maricic’s research group at UH Mānoa will design a tungsten shield to surround the cerium source, needed to separate a subtle neutrino signal from the overwhelming radioactive backgrounds.

A UH Mānoa news release