Mines News

Release Date Monday, July 24, 2017

SD Mines Researchers Play Integral Part in Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at Sanford Lab

A diagram of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) Credit: Sandbox Studios / Fermi Lab

RAPID CITY, SD (July 24, 2017) –  Researchers from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology were on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony that marks the start of construction on the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF). The facility will be home to the international collaboration known as the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) which is being built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

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.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located outside Chicago, will generate a beam of neutrinos and send them 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through the earth to the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), where a four-story-high, 70,000-ton detector will be built beneath the surface to catch those neutrinos. DUNE will have one detector at Fermilab and one at SURF. The facility at SURF (Far Detector) will include one detector consisting (when complete) of four 10 kiloton massive modules.

Scientists will study the interactions of neutrinos in the detectors, looking to better understand the changes these particles undergo as they travel across the country in less than the blink of an eye. Ever since their discovery 61 years ago, neutrinos have proven to be the most surprising subatomic particle, and the fact that they oscillate between three different states is one of their biggest surprises. That discovery began with a solar neutrino experiment led by physicist Ray Davis in the 1960s, performed in the same underground mine that now will house LBNF/DUNE. Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2002 for this experiment.

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 we live in a matter-dominated universe – in other words, why we are all here, instead of having been annihilated just after the Big Bang. 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, which is closely tied to the development of a unified theory of energy and matter.

SD Mines researchers and engineers are working on various aspects of the project including efforts to reduce background radiation and contamination in the components of the detectors. Without the work to remove background radiation, the detectors will be adversely affected, mostly for observing neutrinos from supernova explosions in our galaxy. Assistant Professor of Physics at SD Mines, Juergen Reichenbacher, Ph.D., has served as the convener of the radiopurity working group and also lead the effort to ensure the chemical purity of components in DUNE. Reichenbacher and his graduate student have developed a full radiological simulation model for all components of DUNE. In addition, Reichenbacher has developed a unique detector that can measure small amounts of alpha radiation in various sized parts. He will also lead the effort to screen for neutron and gamma radiation at DUNE. Reichenbacher will next take part in a kick-off meeting for the calibration working group of DUNE. 

Mines researchers are also working on some of the components inside the giant detector modules located in SURF. Assistant Professor of Physics at Mines, Luke Corwin, Ph.D, is testing light guides that capture and funnel light, generated during neutrino interactions, towards sensors inside the DUNE detectors. Corwin will also be involved in the study of neutrinos produced in the upper atmosphere by impinging cosmic rays, once the DUNE detectors at SURF are up and running.

At its peak, construction of LBNF is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs throughout South Dakota, and a similar number of jobs in Illinois. Institutions in dozens of countries will contribute to the construction of the DUNE components. The DUNE experiment will attract students and young scientists from around the world, helping to foster the next generation of leaders in the field and to maintain the highly skilled scientific workforce in the United States and worldwide.

“The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility continues Lead, South Dakota’s, tradition of cutting-edge neutrino research, dating back to physics experiments at the former Homestake Mine in the 1960s,” says South Dakota’s U.S. Senator John Thune. “When completed, LBNF and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment will attract some of the world’s brightest scientists to South Dakota and push the boundaries of basic research, not to mention support good-paying jobs in the historic mining region of the Black Hills. I look forward to seeing the facility’s completion and the groundbreaking experiments that will be done in the years to come,” Thune adds.

The facility will be built over the next ten years. Now that the first shovel of earth has been moved, crews will begin the construction to excavate more than 870,000 tons of rock to create the huge underground caverns for the DUNE detectors. 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 U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from 30 countries. 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.

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About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,778 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $61,300. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Charles Michael Ray, 605-394-6082, Charles.ray@sdsmt.edu

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