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Neutrino Oscillation

All matter is fundamentally composed of particles called quarks and leptons. Neutrinos are neutral
leptons, but they are very difficult to detect since they do not interact much with other matter. These
particles arise from weak-interactions, such as beta decay, solar fusion reactions, and certain
reactions found in accelerators, reactors and in the atmosphere. There are three types of neutrinos,
all charge-less: electron neutrinos (𝜈𝑒 ), muon neutrinos (𝜈𝜇 ) and tau neutrinos (𝜈𝜏 ), so named
because they are associated with the three charged leptons ― these classifications are referred to as
a neutrino’s “flavor.” Formerly neutrinos were thought to have zero mass, which seemed plausible in
experimentation and in line with the Standard Model of particle physics, but other theoretical
considerations hinted otherwise. The certainty of non-zero neutrino mass is connected with the
experimental discovery of neutrino oscillation, for which a Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded.

Neutrino oscillation is a quantum mechanical phenomenon whereby a neutrino that is produced

with a specific flavor is later observed to have a different flavor: a unique case of an elementary
particle transforming spontaneously and periodically into another type, akin to ‘successive periodic
hermaphroditism’ but applied to elementary particles. This ‘shape-shifting’ phenomenon is a
consequence of the neutrinos having small but different masses, plus the notion of flavor mixing.

Alongside the lepton flavor classification, neutrinos are also classified in terms of their masses:
neutrino-1, neutrino-2 and neutrino-3, which correspond to masses of 𝑚1 , 𝑚2 and 𝑚3 . These
classifications in terms of flavor and mass are mixed with each other, “flavor mixing”: the flavor
neutrinos are not themselves eigenstates of the mass, but rather are linear combinations of mass
eigenstates, e.g., the electron neutrino is a mixing state of neutrino-1, neutrino-2 and neutrino-3. In
other words, the flavor of a neutrino is determined as a superposition of the mass eigenstates. This
shows the neutrino as exhibiting both wave and particle properties, since neutrino-1, neutrino-2 and
neutrino-3, each with different mass eigenstates, travel through space as waves that have different
frequencies ― the standard approximation is that of plane waves. In short, neutrinos are detected via
the weak interaction as flavor eigenstates, but they propagate through space as mass eigenstates.

Additional references consulted:

 Basdevant, J. (2007). Lectures on Quantum Mechanics. New York: Springer.

 Griffiths, D. J. (2004). Introduction to Elementary Particles, 2nd ed. Weinheim, Germany:
 Waltham, C. (2003). “Neutrino Oscillations for Dummies,” University of British Columbia.
Retrieved at
 Gonzalez-Garcia, M. C. and Nir, Y. (2002). “Neutrino Masses and Mixing: Evidence and
Implications.” Retrieved at
 “Neutrinos and Neutrino Oscillation,” (n.d.). Hyper-Kamiokande. Retrieved at
 Martin, V. J. (n.d.). “Neutrino Oscillations,” Retrieved at
 “Neutrino Oscillation,” (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved at