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Jelena Maricic receives DOE early career research award

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

Jelena Maricic
Jelena Maricic with graduate student Shawn Dubey

The DOE award provides $750,000 in funding over five years that will enable Maricic’s Hawaii team to deploy a very strong radioactive cerium (Ce) 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 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.”

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.

Subtle signal oscillations, modeled here, hint at the existence of the sterile neutrino

Along with CeLAND collaborators from Japan, France and the United States, Maricic plans to install a 2800 trillion Becquerel electron antineutrino source (144Cerium to 144Praseodymium) 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 Ce source, needed to separate a subtle neutrino signal from the overwhelming radioactive backgrounds.

Maricic came to UH Mānoa in 2012 from the Drexel University in Pennsylvania. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Belgrade and her doctorate in physics from UH Manoa in 2005. Her PhD work was also conducted at KamLAND.

Maricic’s research was selected for funding by the Office of High Energy Physics and the DOE Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.