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Nicole Ackerman | SLAC | USA

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Physics on the Mountain of God

I am writing this post from one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, Erice, in Sicily. My trip to Rome was enjoyable, but two days ago I began the raison d’être of my 20-hour flight to Italy. The so-called “Nuclear School” is focusing entirely on neutrinos, with a surprising amount of talks relating to double beta decay. At most of the particle physics conferences I have attended the majority of the focus is on accelerator physics, including accelerator-based neutrino physics. Double beta decay is often relegated to a sparsely-attended parallel session.

But certainly this school at the Ettore Majorana Center for Scientific Culture is unlike anything I have ever attended before. As the large tour bus ascended the mountain from Palermo to Erice, I realized that I could not be in more incredible company. Many of the papers that I have worked hard to understand were written by attendees of this school. I was astounded by the amount I learned in just the first day! My favorite talks so far have been the ones covering theory, since it is not something I have been exposed to. This is the most excited I have ever been about my field.

I look forward to the proceedings being available so that I can go back and slowly try to piece together some of the details I was unable to absorb during the fast-paced talks. A talk was just presented on the importance of double beta decay in particle, nuclear, and atomic physics. I was eagerly awaiting the final section of the talk, as I couldn’t imagine what it would include. I believe (and forgive a young experimentalist if I misrepresent this) that there is an argument that it is possible to have atomic oscillations due to a box diagram with the same sort of couplings as neutrinoless double beta decay. This makes sense on first glance, since it resembles the oscillations seen in K (and other) mesons. I was too busy trying to absorb this concept to fully understand the consequences, but I believe it could result in measurable differences in atomic physics. I certainly hope to read more on this, once my brain is no longer running at full speed!

Even aside from the physics, this is a very enjoyble event. The town and view are incredible – which I will share when I can connect my camera to a computer. The food is good, and the nightly marsala receptions are even better. I’ve met a fair number of people and had great conversations on research, travel, and the details of our lives that make us human, in addition to scientists. I am surviving quite nicely without my laptop, though my lack of Italian has been a bit more of a problem. I can’t believe that I really get to spend a week here, and while I will be sad to go, I will be excited to get back and work on contributing to the field I am so proud to be a part of!

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