MicroBooNE did not find the sterile neutrino which it was designed to instead it found the absence of the sterile neutrino. That too is finding something. In fundamental research sciences we learn both by what we find and do not find. To make a prediction and falsify it also advances science by eliminating possibilities. Gradually we can zero in on what is possible.

For the non-physicist what is a sterile neutrino. We can define the sterile neutrino ass being a neutrino which lack something all known neutrinos have. In certain nuclear interactions that involved the electron (e) there was a need for a neutral particle that traveled at or near the speed of light. That particle was the neutrino ν. Higher energy experiments revealed heavier electron like particles known as the muon and the tauon. Each of these particles has an associated neutrino.

A diagram of the standard Model with the neutrinos outlined in a dark green box. Neutrinos along with the electron, muon and tauon are Leptons. They interact via the weak atomic force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity.

It turns out that as these neutrinos travel, they can change type say from electron neutrino to muon neutrino or tauon neutrino and back. Sterile neutrinos were hypothesized for a lot of reasons a big reason was to model and explain neutrino oscillation.

Now we know this isn’t the answer that we thought it was. The standard model wins again.

So, this is a disappointment but not a “failure”. The only real failure is not to try and find new things. Sadly, null results don’t get as much glamour and fanfare as finding new particles, fields, equations, or solutions to equations.


MicroBooNE experiment’s first results show no hint of a sterile neutrino (fnal.gov)

Sterile neutrinos: Physicists fail to find mysterious theoretical particle | New Scientist


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