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Curated by RSF Research Staff

Building the longest underground experiment to study the neutrinos

Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. They are also one of the least understood. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electron, with one important difference: neutrinos do not carry an electric charge. Because of that, they are not affected by the electromagnetic forces which act on electrons. Thus, they have very little interaction with matter and they are incredibly difficult to detect. Neutrinos are able to pass through great distances in matter without being affected by it.

To detect neutrinos, very large and very sensitive detectors are required. Typically, a low-energy neutrino will travel through many light-years of normal matter before interacting with anything. Consequently, all terrestrial neutrino experiments rely on measuring the tiny fraction of neutrinos that interact in reasonably sized detectors. And for many years now, due to their very particular nature, scientists have worked on ways to observe and study them. They hope understanding neutrinos will help to find answers to the origin of matter, the unification of Forces and even black hole formation.

DUNE (Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment) at the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility is a next generation neutrino experiment planning to build a very large scale LAr detector (10-40kt) to provide unprecedented sensitivity to the study neutrino. The very large detector will be located at the Stanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) at a baseline of 1300km from the Fermilab neutrino beam. LBNE proposes an immense scientific program and will answer many of the great questions of neutrino physics.

One of the most promising experiments is the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment called DUNE. This facility will use two complex buildings. One at Fermilab will produce a controlled beam of neutrinos produced by smashing a proton beam into a target. The second is a detector 1,300km away at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. The neutrino beam will have a 1,300km underground trajectory and reach the detectors situated about one mile underground in order to protect them from being overwhelmed by fake neutrino signals from the cosmic radiation that bombards the Earth. To do so, workers will have to create huge underground caverns for these enormous particle detectors which will contain 10,000 tonnes of liquid argon held at a temperature of -186℃.


"This project lets us chart unexplored areas. We can gain knowledge in fundamental physics as well as the early universe. […] It's like building a ship in a bottle. It has involved a lot of engineering and physics to make sure that this design maintains a reliable connection during the construction process. It's a huge puzzle in understanding how the rules of physics apply to the very large scale. This project is a long-term investment, but there are many benefits as you learn more about the fundamental ways that nature works."

Glenn Horton-Smith, professor of physics, experts in experimental high energy and particle physics.


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