Construction Begins on International Megascience Neutrino Experiment

A groundbreaking ceremony on July 21 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota, marked the official start of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, future home to the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE).

In the unique ceremony, a group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of this massive international experiment, to be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries, that could change our understanding of the universe. A parallel celebration was held at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab, CSA CSM) in Batavia IL.

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

To achieve this, Fermilab will generate a beam of neutrinos and send them 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through the Earth to Sanford Lab, where a four-story-high, 70,000-ton detector will be built beneath the surface to catch those neutrinos. Scientists will study the interactions of neutrinos in the detector, looking to better understand the changes these particles undergo as they travel across the country in less than the blink of an eye. DUNE scientists will also look for the differences in behavior between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why the visible universe is dominated by matter. DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory

Over the next 10 years, crews will begin to excavate more than 870,000 tons of rock to create the huge underground caverns for the DUNE detector. Large DUNE prototype detectors are under construction at European research center CERN, a major partner in the project, and the technology refined for those smaller versions will be tested and scaled up when the massive DUNE detectors are built.

This research is funded by the US Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from 30 countries. At least 1,000 scientists have expressed interest in working on the project so far.

Speakers at the South Dakota event, representing SURF, Fermilab, South Dakota, Illinois, the White House, the DOE, CERN, Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, emphasized that LBNF/DUNE can serve as a model for the future of mega-science research—an intensely collaborative project between state, local and federal governments, international partners, and corporate and philanthropic partners, working to further international scientific understanding.