Neutrino research takes giant leap forward

07/25/2017 05:17 pm ET

The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment will send particles 800 miles to a mile-deep detector in South Dakota

This illustration shows the 800-mile/1300-kilometer path from Fermilab  to the Sanford Underground Research Facility, straigh
This illustration shows the 800-mile/1300-kilometer path from Fermilab to the Sanford Underground Research Facility, straight through the earth.

In a unique groundbreaking ceremony July 21 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, S.D., an international group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers marked the start of construction of a massive experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

“With the groundbreaking for the LBNF and DUNE projects, the United States is taking the lead in further unveiling the elusive neutrino particle. Los Alamos scientists, who have been performing R&D on liquid argon as the target material, and on accurately monitoring the neutrino beam for this project will continue to bring their well-honed skills to continue to play a vital role in this exciting national program,” said Rajan Gupta, a Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist.

When complete, LBNF/DUNE will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of neutrinos. Unlocking the mysteries of these particles could explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.

Neutrinos are the most abundant matter particles in the universe, yet little is known about their role in the way the universe evolved. For DUNE, Fermilab will send a beam of neutrinos through two detectors. One detector will record particle interactions near the source of the beam at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill. The beam will then travel 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through the earth to a second detector that stands nearly four stories tall, built almost one mile underground, filled with 70,000 tons of liquid argon and cooled to -300 degrees Fahrenheit. This detector will take snapshots of interactions deep underground at Sanford Lab so scientists can study the interactions between neutrinos and argon atoms.

Los Alamos has been deeply engaged in elucidating the subtle world of neutrinos—from the work of Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines, who established the existence of neutrinos in 1956, to the tritium beta decay experiment to determine their mass, to the engagement with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) experiment that established neutrino oscillations. Nuclear physics is a key component in Los Alamos’ mission to ensure that the nation’s nuclear stockpile is safe, reliable, and secure.

Running at the same time as SNO, the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector experiment at Los Alamos in the 1990s provided hints of a new intriguing possibility: Do neutrinos oscillate among only the three known types (electron, muon and tau) or to a fourth sterile flavor that would, additionally, serve as a candidate for dark matter?

This question is currently being pursued at the short baseline neutrino experiments at Fermilab with significant involvement of Los Alamos scientists. Answering the question that requires even higher-order precision, whether there is violation of charge-conjugate and parity symmetry in the neutrino sector, required the development of the Long Baseline Neutrino program.

The international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment was conceived, designed and will be built by a team of 1,000 scientists and engineers from more than 160 institutions in 30 countries. Construction of large DUNE prototype detectors is already under way at the European research center CERN, a major partner in the project. CERN has also committed to providing the first cryostat to be built in South Dakota.

DUNE collaborators come from institutions in Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States.

This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from nearly 30 countries.

Illustrations and animations of the LBNF/DUNE project and its science goals are available online.

More information about the facility and experiment are at:

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