Neutrinos are poorly understood, so the current priority is basic research. This tells us more about the particles themselves and how they fit into our picture of the universe. They can also help us better understand larger fundamental physics questions and test our theories about how things work. As with much of basic research, we often don’t know where the research will ultimately lead us. Think of the electron: Early researchers could have no idea that discovering the electron would revolutionize the world, providing us with electronics, computing, and a more connected world. This also applies for much of the technology that is used to build and run physics experiments—no one could have predicted the way the World Wide Web, developed to share physics data, would revolutionize how we communicate, shop, travel, and do a thousand other things.
The same is true for neutrino research. We’re not sure where the technology—the sensitive detectors, powerful particle accelerators, data processors, and other things that make experiments run—will eventually be useful. People are already dreaming up interesting applications for neutrinos and neutrino research. Because neutrinos are so small, wily, and hard to detect, there are many practical hurdles between the current state and implementation. Perhaps the closest to reality is using neutrino detectors to monitor nuclear proliferation for national security. It could also potentially be used to assess Earth’s crust for mineral deposits or provide a new kind of communication. We’re still very much at the beginning of our neutrino journey; what we do with this technology and information remains for the physicists of the future.