MSU part of international physics experiment

Published July 21, 2017

Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility groundbreaking represents the beginning of a new era of physics in the United States, and scientists from Michigan State University will be a part of it.

A simultaneous groundbreaking ceremony for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility took place at Sanford Lab in South Dakota and at Fermilab in Illinois on July 21. The groundbreaking represents the beginning of a new era of physics in the United States – and scientists from Michigan State University will be a part of it.

Dignitaries, scientists, engineers and others from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the Sanford Underground Research Facility and their partners around the world broke ground – nearly a mile under the earth – on a massive global physics experiment. Crews will now begin digging huge underground caverns for the assembly of enormous particle detectors, all to better understand a mysterious particle called a neutrino.

LBNF will be constructed over the next decade and will be home to the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Fermilab will send a beam of neutrinos 800 miles through the earth to a detector that stands nearly four stories tall, built nearly one mile underground and filled with liquid argon. Scientists will study the interactions neutrinos make with argon atoms in a quest to learn more about these elusive yet abundant particles.

“Neutrinos have been a source of new, unexpected physics,” said Kendall Mahn, MSU assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the College of Natural Science and one of the participating scientists. “The DUNE program will answer many questions we have about the nature of neutrinos, and neutrinos may give us more surprises. These kinds of projects are quite thrilling, as people from all over the world unite to tackle difficult questions.”

DUNE 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.

Neutrinos are the most abundant matter particles in the universe, yet very little is known about their role in the way the universe evolved. DUNE will consist of two particle detectors placed in the world’s most intense neutrino beam. One detector will record particle interactions near the source of the beam, at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. The other, filled with 70,000 tons of liquid argon and cooled to -300 degrees Fahrenheit, will take snapshots of interactions deep underground at Sanford Lab in Lead, South Dakota.

The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility will provide the neutrino beam and the infrastructure that will support the DUNE detectors, taking advantage of Fermilab’s powerful particle accelerator complex and Sanford Lab’s deep underground areas. At its peak, LBNF construction is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs in South Dakota and a similar number of jobs in Illinois.

Mahn will work with Carl Bromberg, MSU professor of physics and astronomy; Jacob Calcutt, MSU graduate student; and Prratek Ramchandani and Nicolas Ponti, MSU undergraduate students. They will test the electronics of DUNE detectors under the cryogenic conditions at which they will operate. They’re also investigating what will potentially be learned about neutrino interactions from the near detectors.

DUNE will enable scientists to look for differences in the behavior of neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could provide essential clues as to why we live in a matter-dominated universe – in other words, why we are all here, instead of our universe having been annihilated just after the Big Bang.

DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced by supernovae, which scientists can use to look for the formation of neutron stars or even black holes. The large DUNE detectors also will allow scientists to look for the predicted but never observed subatomic phenomenon of proton decay, a process closely tied to the development of a unified theory of energy and matter.

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.

Banner image and photo courtesy of DUNE Collaboration.