Researchers have, apparently for the first time, sent a message using a beam of neutrinos. The message was sent through 240 meters of stone and said simply, “Neutrino.”
The difficulty of such a feat is also the advantage: neutrinos have neutral electric charge and low mass, meaning they can pass through almost all matter. This makes detecting neutrinos difficult but also means, unlike radio waves, they are virtually free of interference. Dan Stancil, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the research, is quoted in the press release saying:
Using neutrinos, it would be possible to communicate between any two points on Earth without using satellites or cables. Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today’s systems, but may have important strategic uses.
The press release explains the method used in the test at Fermilab:
The message that the scientists sent using neutrinos was translated into binary code. In other words, the word “neutrino” was represented by a series of 1′s and 0′s, with the 1′s corresponding to a group of neutrinos being fired and the 0′s corresponding to no neutrinos being fired. The neutrinos were fired in large groups because they are so evasive that even with a multi-ton detector, only about one in ten billion neutrinos are detected. After the neutrinos were detected, a computer on the other end translated the binary code back into English, and the word “neutrino” was successfully received.
The mention of a “multi-ton detector” hints at practical limitations. Kevin McFarland, a University of Rochester physics professor who was involved in the experiment, is quoted saying:
Of course, our current technology takes massive amounts of high-tech equipment to communicate a message using neutrinos, so this isn’t practical now. But the first step toward someday using neutrinos for communication in a practical application is a demonstration using today’s technology.
As well as communicating with submarines while underwater, an article in the Daily Mail suggests this could be used to “help us get in touch with aliens on ‘wrong’ side of distant worlds”.