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Jelena Maricic

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Jelena Maricic

People are walking neutrino sources. Each of our bodies emits about 340 million neutrinos per day! These neutrinos come from radioactive decays of potassium 40, a natural isotope of potassium that our bodies contain in small amounts. But no harm done. Neutrinos stream through us unaffected all the time. It would seem that we care about them much, much more than they care about us. I have been intrigued and fascinated by these little, ghostly particles for the last ten years.

After getting my undergraduate degree in physics at University of Belgrade, Serbia, I enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Hawaii in 1999. There, for the first time, I learned more about the elusive neutrinos. My PhD project experiment was KamLAND, a giant 1 kiloton scintillation detector, located in the Kamioka mine in Japan. KamLAND was set to study antineutrino oscillations with electron antineutrinos. On top of that I searched for the antineutrino signal from the hypothetical nuclear reactor in the Earth's core that some scientists predict. This was really a lot of fun, and I learned a bit of geology along the way.

After completing my PhD and postdoc in Hawaii, I came to Drexel University in Philadelphia as an assistant professor, where I started to share my love between neutrinos and teaching. I am mainly involved in two neutrino experiments that have very different time scales. The first one is Double Chooz, an experiment that will turn on next year in search for the last non-measured neutrino oscillation angle. It is located in an underground mine in France, just 1 kilometer away from a nuclear reactor that constantly sends 10^21 neutrinos around it. In order to obtain accurate measurements, we want to calibrate the detector thoroughly. For that purpose, I am building a robotic articulated arm - a calibration device that will bring radioactive sources throughout the Double Chooz detection volume.

The second one is a very young experiment, but with the prospects of producing great neutrino physics in several years. The proposed long baseline neutrino project will be built at Homestake mine in South Dakota at the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL). It will try to uncover the puzzle of matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe by studying neutrinos that originate at Fermi lab, 1300 kilometers away in Illinois, to detect supernova neutrinos and do a number of other exciting experiments. The proposed project requires a state-of -the art giant 300 kiloton neutrino detector, and we are currently in the design stage. It is an exciting time. The decisions made now will shape the detector and physics that the detector will be able to do. At Drexel we are prototyping light concentrators – simple devices to help our detector collect light from neutrino events better.

When I am not chasing neutrinos, I spend time with my family and especially my little children Una who is four and Luka who is two. They are the most joyous "distraction" from neutrinos, and they are also hard to catch!

I look forward to sharing my experiences and news from neutrino hunting with everyone in this blog.