Double Beta Decay and the Challenges It Poses for Nuclear Physics

Wick Haxton (UC Berkeley)
Event Date and Time: 
Thu, 2016-05-12 14:00 - 15:00
TRIUMF Auditorium

Fortuitous properties of nuclei allow us to isolate and study the rare second-order weak process of double beta decay.  Neutrinoless double beta decay - in which the final state contains two electrons but no neutrinos - provides our best test of lepton number conservation and the Majorana mass of the electron neutrino.  I will describe the connections between this process and the charge conjugation properties of the neutrino, including the possibility that the presence of both Dirac and Majorana masses accounts for the anomalous scale of neutrino masses.  An experimental challenge is the development of detectors of unprecedented size, radiopurity, and depth, capable of probing double beta decay lifetimes at a level consistent with current expectations about neutrino mass.  A theoretical challenge is to identify appropriate effective operators that could be used in standard nuclear physics calculations to predict rates more reliably.  I argue that this theory challenge connects double beta decay to many other issues in nuclear physics, including the structure of weakly bound and unbound nuclei.

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