Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Dr. Steven W. Yates

Abstract

While neutrino oscillations indicate that neutrino flavors mix and that neutrinos have mass, they do not supply information on the absolute mass scale of the three flavors of neutrinos. Currently, the only viable way to determine this mass scale is through the observation of the theoretically predicted process of neutrinoless double-beta decay (0νββ). This yet-to-be-observed decay process is speculated to occur in a handful of nuclei and has predicted half-lives greater than 10²⁵ years. Observation of 0νββ is the goal of several large-scale, multinational efforts and consists of detecting a sharp peak in the summed β energies at the Q-value of the reaction. An exceptional candidate for the observation of 0νββ is ⁷⁶Ge, which offers an excellent combination of capabilities and sensitivities, and two such collaborations, MAJORANA and GERDA, propose tonne-scale experiments that have already begun initial phases using a fraction of the material. The absolute scale of the neutrino masses hinges on a matrix element, which depends on the ground-state wave functions for both the parent (⁷⁶Ge) and daughter (⁷⁶Se) nuclei in the 0νββ decay and can only be calculated from nuclear structure models. Efforts to provide information on the applicability of these models have been undertaken at the University of Kentucky Accelerator Laboratory using gamma-ray spectroscopy following inelastic scattering reactions with monoenergetic, accelerator-produced fast neutrons. Information on new energy levels and transitions, spin and parity assignments, lifetimes, multipole mixing ratios, and transition probabilities have been determined for ⁷⁶Se, the daughter of ⁷⁶Ge 0νββ, up to 3.0 MeV. Additionally, inaccuracies in the accepted level schemes have been addressed.

Observation of 0νββ requires precise knowledge of potential contributors to background within the region of interest, i.e., approximately 2039 keV for ⁷⁶Ge. In addition to backgrounds resulting from surrounding materials in the experimental setup, ⁷⁶Ge has a previously observed 3952-keV level with a de-exciting 2040-keV γ ray. This γ ray constitutes a potential background for 0νββ searches, if this level is excited. The cross sections for this level and, subsequently, for the 2040-keV γ ray has been determined in the range from 4 to 5 MeV.

Included in

Nuclear Commons

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