The construction of an underground research lab in South Dakota started yesterday. This facility will count with the support of 1,000 scientists and engineers from different parts of the world to study the properties of the neutrino, a mysterious particle that makes up a significant part of the universe.

The Sanford Underground Research Facility’s Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility will try to unlock the mysteries of the universe by discovering the secrets of this particles. It will be possible through the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

Schematics of the modular DUNE laboratory. Image Source: DUNE Science
The schematics of the modular DUNE laboratory. Image Source: DUNE Science

“The discovery of neutrinos mass has created a potential tantalizing connection between the observed asymmetry of matter over antimatter in our universe and postulated neutrino properties,” said Mei, associate physics professor and director of the Center for Ultra-Low Background Experiments. “The USD group has been focusing on studying the nature of neutrinos, supernova neutrinos, cosmic ray neutrinos, and theoretical aspects of neutrino properties.”

The largest experiment ever build to study neutrinos

Carrying out the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) will cost about $2 billion. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility was possible thanks to the joint work of several universities of the world – including the University of South Dakota – and more than 1,000 scientists from more than 30 countries. Once the facility reaches completion, it would be the largest experiment ever build in the United States for the study of this mysterious tiny particle.

Today, there would be two ceremonies to celebrate the start of the construction of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) at the Sanford Lab in South Dakota and Fermilab in Illinois.

“Fermilab is proud to host the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, which bring together scientists from 30 countries in a quest to understand the neutrino,” said Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab. “This is a true landmark day and the start of a new era in global neutrino physics.”

The building of this new neutrino facility will generate about 2,000 new jobs in South Dakota, directly and indirectly. As well, a similar number of jobs is expected to emerge in Illinois. Once the first shovel of earth is turned, 8,000 more tons of rocks will be dug out, adding to approximately the same weight that eight aircraft carriers would have. The objective is to create underground caverns that allow putting together massive neutrinos detectors and assembly all the infrastructure that will support these machines.

The DUNE far detector will be installed in large caverns 1,475 meters underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota. Image Source: DUNE Science
The DUNE far detector will be installed in large caverns 1,475 meters deep at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota. Image Source: DUNE Science

The detectors will be created using large panels (APAs) that will be submerged in liquid argon. APAs are ultra-thin wires wound around metal. The APAs will be built at the Stoughton UW laboratory. The APA consists of a stainless steel frame that is 20 feet long, with a layer of copper mesh, and almost 15 miles copper beryllium wire.

“The APAs are really the heart of the detector,” said the lab’s director, Bob Paulo who was overseeing the PSL’s work on DUNE.

Scientists expect DUNE tell them why we are in the universe

The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment will send particles 800 miles through the earth from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago to a mile-deep detector in an inactive gold mine – which was operational in the 1930’s – in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This detector weights 70,000 tons.

Neutrinos represent the most common particles in the universe. Because they are a fundamental particle in the universe, scientists believe that they can understand the matter and the way the universe works by understanding neutrinos, through the use of a constellation of detectors.

One of DUNE's Liquid Argon Time Projection Chamber. Image Source: DUNE Science
One of the DUNE’s Liquid Argon Time Projection Chamber. Image Source: DUNE Science

Neutrinos were discovered more than 6 decades ago, and since then they have proven to be one of the most surprising and enigmatic subatomic particles. One of the most shocking characteristics of neutrinos is their ability to oscillate between the three different states.

This ability was discovered with a solar neutrino experiment led by physicist Ray Davis in the 1960s – this discovery made him win a Nobel Prize -, which was in fact, performed in the very same surfaced mine where now these scientists are planning to build the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility. Maybe, other important discoveries are on their way in this place.

More than 1,000 scientists will study the way neutrinos interact with the detector. For example, if there is any change in these particles when they travel across the country. They will also analyze the different behaviors between these particles and their antimatter counterparts, the antineutrinos.

DUNE scientists think this experiment could give significant hints to understand why we exist and why the universe is made up of matter. They will also study the way these particles are produced when a star explodes; this could help understand the origin of neutron stars and black holes. The ultimate objective of this experiments is to have the knowledge required to create a grand unified theory, making Einstein’s big dream a reality.