Construction begins on major neutrino research facility
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The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, which will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), has entered construction. This project – which aims to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our universe – will involve scientists and engineers from 30 countries.
Approximately 800,000 tonnes of rock will need to be excavated to make space for a series of enormous underground caverns that will house the DUNE detector, near the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. The facility’s construction is expected to take 10 years.
“The massive underground excavation […] is a clear signal to the global science community that the US is moving forward with its ambitious plan to host a global megascience project centred on elucidating the properties of neutrinos as a centrepiece of its high-energy physics programme for the next two decades or more,” said Professor David MacFarlane, chair of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Committee at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. DUNE is just one of a portfolio of experimental neutrino programmes at SLAC.
DUNE will be the largest scientific experiment ever built in the US to study neutrinos; ghost-like fundamental particles that are notoriously difficult to detect.
Neutrinos were discovered 61 years ago. They are electrically neutral, almost massless particles. Due to their limited interactions – they can pass through normal matter unaffected – they are particularly difficult to detect and study. A number of large, underground experimental facilities, such as Super-Kamiokande in Japan and Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in the US, have been built for the detection of these particles. Studying them could shed light on some of the most fundamental mysteries about our universe, such as why matter dominates the universe.
A beam of neutrinos will be blasted 800 miles from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago to the new laboratory, through the Earth itself. At the new facility, a four-storey-high, 70,000-tonne underground detector will attempt to catch a glimpse of these particles, and how they decay. Machine learning techniques will be used to help analyse the enormous quantities of data harvested.
Scientists involved with DUNE will search for differences in the behaviour of neutrinos and antineutrinos – their antimatter twins – for clues about why matter and antimatter did not entirely annihilate each other following the Big Bang billions of years ago.
They will also search for neutrinos produced in distant supernovae in order to better understand these rare events, and study the properties of the parties to attempt to determine whether protons have limited or unlimited lifetimes.
“SLAC is rapidly becoming a centre for research on neutrinos, whose properties are a crucial component of understanding cosmology amnd the evolution of the universe since the Big Bang,” said Professor JoAnne Hewett, director of elementary particle physics at SLAC.
Institutions from 30 countries will contribute to the construction of DUNE. CERN, a crucial partner in the project, is already beginning to construct scaled-down prototype neutrino detectors for the facility.