Stanford Supplement Essay: Intellectual Vitality

Stanford Supplement Essay: Intellectual Vitality

Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.

The sterile neutrino.

It was like trying to catch and study a bullet traveling at 400 m/s using a wet piece of tissue paper.

Originally a ‘desperate attempt’ to explain the violation of conservation laws in beta-

decay, the neutrino has a history of anomaly. Neutrinos interact exclusively via the weak force, so interaction is rare–making them nearly impossible to detect. Following the first detector discovery, physicists worked for almost a century to create a non-

contradictory understanding of these elusive leptons. This Standard Model description was supported time after time by experimental data, leading the world to believe that theorists had triumphed–until now. Another conflicting piece of evidence has arisen… But I intend to crack it.

Recent experiments on the LSND reveal substantial evidence suggesting an additional flavor of neutrino. Under the guidance of Dr. Patricia Vahle, I am designing a sensitivity study for a potential Fermilab experiment to discover this new “sterile neutrino”, requiring the testing of the efficiency and purity of thousands of simulations. The hefty PDG Review of Particle Physics is already my lifeline, and my nights are quickly becoming consumed with hours of often frustrating bash scripting.

The subatomic world of flavor eigenstates and unstable decay is strange, but understanding is worth the effort; fresh inconsistency is too good to pass up. I have learned that my place in particle physics is in the challenge–widening the fissures in reality is okay with me. In fact, probing the unknown is the very force that drives my intellectual engine.

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