Physicists can now analyze neutrino events, such as this one, in 3D. Courtesy: Berkeley Lab.

By Ashley Yeager

Using a virtual, 3D environment, scientists are getting their closest look yet at neutrinos’ interactions with matter.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that “interact with matter only very rarely, maybe once in your body in your entire lifetime,” said Duke physicist Kate Scholberg during a Sept. 21 talk, which the Visualization Technology Group hosted.

Scholberg explained that to study neutrino interactions, scientists use large, underground detectors, which may only record one event per day. That might not seem significant. But, as Scholberg explained, scientists need to observe the events to determine how the universe developed with more matter than anti-matter, a phenomenon that allows life to exist.

Typically, Scholberg and her colleagues analyze neutrino interactions from their Japan-based detector Super-K in a two-dimensional computer program. Recently, however, Scholberg “stepped” into the Duke immersive Virtual Environment, or DiVE, a six-sided, cave-like, virtual-reality theater programed with data from Super-K.

Inside, Scholberg got her first look at neutrinos interactions in 3D. She was able to see a representation of Super-K and thousands of its light detectors. She could also see data from a recent neutrino event and was able to walk around the detector simulation and visualize the neutrino interaction from all sides. The software had even traced out the “sonic boom” of light, which looks like a circle in two-dimensions and a cone or ring in three-dimensions, given off after a neutrino event.

“This is what I’ve imagined happens a million times after an interaction,” Scholberg said, showing a video of her experience in the DiVE. “It’s entirely different seeing it in 3D,” she said, adding that the drawing of the cone shape of a Cherenkov ring has never been done in a neutrino event display before.

Benjamin Izatt a student at the University of California, Berkeley was the mastermind who developed the 3D neutrino simulation, called Super-KAVE. He designed it to help Duke physicists explain their neutrino research to the public.

But, Scholberg said, the tool may also help her and her collaborators at Super-K better understand complex neutrino interactions and sort out where the particles’ rings and cones overlap. She added that in future simulations, “we may also be able to see particles and interact with the particles, which would be not only fun, but helpful.”