Researchers send the first wireless message through solid rock

Researchers send the first wireless message through solid rock
Those of you with connection issues in Manhattan or San Francisco need to keep this study in perspective, but researchers based at the University of Rochester, as well as North Carolina State University, have managed to send a wireless signal through 800 feet of solid rock. For those of you wondering, the message was "neutrino".

No, it wasn't even a full tweet, and no, this probably won’t be used any time soon to help your cell signal reach through skyscrapers, but it actually could lead to advances in global communication.

How is that? Glad you asked! The researchers made use of neutrinos, which have a weak negative charge and essentially no mass, allowing them to travel through almost anything – including planets! The upshot could someday be global communication that doesn’t’ require wires or satellites. The downside is you’d need a heck of a lot of expensive gear at both communications points.

The experiment was conducted at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab near Chicago, one of the most powerful particle accelerators in the world. These aren’t the type of thing you keep at most high end universities, let along your local NBC affiliate. At a current price of several billion dollars per installation, we imagine that costs will have to drop quite a bit before we hear more about practical applications of this research.

Still, many technologies (including the smartphones we carry) were once prohibitively expensive, so perhaps your children (or grandkids, if you’re already a member of the parental class) will tune their personal tablets into their favorite streaming 3D cartoons, and just possibly those cartoons could be delivered to the local server station via neutrino, rather than cable or cell signal.

Or maybe your great grandchildren; it’s hard to say.

source: University of Rochester via electronista



1. hepresearch unregistered

Fascinating, but still just a really REALLY expensive parlor trick at this point. Neutrinos are near-massless and completely chargeless (they have absolutely no electrical charge... otherwise they would interact via photons and would never be able to pass through entire planets, whether detected or undetected), and they are spin-1/2 unlike gluons or photons (which have spin-1), so they do not interact with a whole lot of anything. In order to detect a neutrino, you have to make a very large, very dense detector that can see the results of neutrino absorption, rather than the neutrino itself. In the case of Fermilab, where you are trying to increase the odds of seeing such an event, you stack the decks even higher by producing a concentrated beam of neutrinos rather than relying on natural abundance, as other experiments like IceCube do. The larger and more dense your detector, and the more concentrated your neutrino beam, the higher your chances are of seeing the results of neutrino absorption. Even then, you will see maybe 100 to 10000 events in a given run at the detector side, despite the fact that you know you produced perhaps 100 million charged kaons to decay in the laboratory's drift chamber, sending a beam of no more than half that many neutrinos in the direction of the detector with a fairly consistent momentum. So, to produce visibly frequent neutrino emission requires a LOT of work and rigging the system to make sure these things get seen. Then there is the issue with the fact that, apparently, neutrinos are not totally massless (and hence do not travel at exactly the speed of light), and are sometimes known to slightly exceed the speed of light in reaching the detectors (neutrino astronomers, CERN, and others have reported this bizarre behavior already) which would indicate tachyonic mass behavior. Thus, if you do not closely control the momentum differences between neutrino bunches in the beam, you could end up getting the first part of a transmission after a later part... which would be really confusing... and really there is no way to do this yet. Neutrinos do not respond to magnetic confinement, and so we cannot control their momentum in beams once they have popped out of the decaying kaon that we actually send down the drift chamber at a prior set momentum and controlled direction. Once in the drift chamber, we really do not have any direct control anymore, until these things give their signature in the detector. Fortunately, this particular test was able to rely on very crude signal strengths to trigger the translation, and the distance of 800 feet is short enough that only the most errant neutrinos are lost from the beam on the way to the detector, and even the most momentum-diverse neutrinos in the beam cannot interrupt or scramble the message order. All told, this is still an amazing feat... I just doubt that it will be very commonplace or useful for a very long time. Just the same, neat article!

9. cepcamba

Posts: 717; Member since: Feb 27, 2012

Nice details. I wish more of phonearena folks are like you! What I'm wondering is if the Neutrinos could somehow alter the components of living organisms? Solid rock is pretty stable compared to organisms.

10. hepresearch unregistered

Well, a neutrino could pass through you, and in an interaction sense it would not even notice you were there to pass through... likewise, you would not notice it passed through you. It actually happens all the time, millions of times a day, and none of us ever notice. If there were a lot more neutrinos shooting around, and I mean a LOT more, then it might start to make a difference in the apparent stability of neutrons (neutrons actually have a mean life of only ten minutes, believe it or not... but nuclear forces in atomic nucleii sort of cancel this out in stable isotopes), and perhaps certain radioisotopes by extension, but there would have to be so many neutrinos flying around to increase absorption that it is hardly likely to occur even in the most extreme settings (like if our sun went supernova or worse, which will not happen as our sun has too little mass to end with a supernova). So, the short answer is no.

11. cepcamba

Posts: 717; Member since: Feb 27, 2012

You know what? You're the type of person I like talking to. Too bad I'm not that versed in molecular stuff. I have a fair understanding though :p Anyway, thanks for all the info you provide for readers like me. Saves us the trouble of googling stuff :)

2. squallz506

Posts: 1075; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

i live 2 miles away from "one of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators in the world. " lol. and hep, im sure the professionals have it handled, you just focus on getting your bachelor's and working on your 1:600 scale jetliner's.

5. hepresearch unregistered

I never said it was not being handled by professionals, and yes I'm working on getting to where I would like to be... I have a great deal of interest in this particular field of study and research as I have been involved in it before, and intend to be again. Thank you for your concern.

7. squallz506

Posts: 1075; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

your welcome. it is a really interesting field. but i always liked working with money more. im getting my bachelor's in actuarial science.

8. hepresearch unregistered

Best of luck to you on that. I have no doubt you will do just fine at whatever you choose to do.

3. BlacRaZredge

Posts: 36; Member since: Mar 06, 2012

Scott, you need to learn to correct your work! I now have a headache from reading this post.

4. skymitch89

Posts: 1453; Member since: Nov 05, 2010

That's cool, but why not just use repeaters to get a signal "thought/around" rock or other solid material?

6. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

the point of this is more the tech, not the getting through the rock.. neutrinos offer a rapid and penetrating signal that could eventually become mainstream.. but at the moment it is little more than another scientific discovery

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