They’re called neutrinos, the most abundant particles produced by the universe. In fact, at any given time, trillions of them run through your body. But surprisingly, scientists don’t know much about them.
To take a closer look at these tiny particles, they actually have to be sent far away. That’s just what those at Fermilab in Batavia are working to do.
“We’ve selected a site at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, which is about 800 miles from Fermilab and we want to use that longer base-line to study additional properties of neutrinos,” said Elaine McCluskey, Project Manager for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility. “So we will be building a new neutrino beam at Fermilab, and then travel virtually at the speed of light, not quite, but close to South Dakota, at which point the neutrinos would react to the Argonne and the reactions will be read out into data.”
The new project would be an expansion of an existing experiment already in place at Fermilab, in which neutrinos are produced and sent directly through the earth to Minnesota.
To understand the science behind this, I went 350 feet underground at a facility called Minos to literally get to the core of the experiment.
Here, scientists produce the neutrinos and send them across multiple platforms to see how they react to different elements they come into contact with, all in an effort to understand what role they play in the universe.
“We believe they are one of the fundamental things that can help explain the difference between the amount of matter and anti-matter in the universe. We also think it can help us understand what happened during the big bang, and we know neutrinos play a fundamental role in the formation of stars and when supernovas go off, so that can also help us learn more about the beginnings about the universe,” said McCluskey.
But some might wonder ‘why send them to South Dakota if they’re already going to Minnesota?’ The answer lies in the fraction of a second it takes to make the journey.
“We can look at different properties in the neutrinos than we are able to with the baseline that we are currently using. We can also build a larger detector there out of Argonne to understand the properties more deeply,” said McCluskey.
Funding for the proposed experiment is still being secured, some will come from the Department of Energy, and Fermilab is hopeful the rest can be acquired from international sources.
Those funds would help cover the construction of four buildings, a 58-foot-high hill and a 680-foot tunnel on the Fermilab site, in addition to the construction in South Dakota. All this is expected to take about 11 years to build.
The time and money already put into this research has proved to be well spent. Fermilab recently set a new world record for the most powerful high-energy particle beam for a neutrino experiment at 521 kilowatts.
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