Scientists believe that a better understanding of neutrinos, one of the most abundant and difficult-to-study particles, may lead to a clearer picture of the origins of matter and the inner workings of the universe. Using the world’s most powerful beam of neutrinos , generated at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, the NOvA experiment can precisely record the telltale traces of those rare instances when one of these ghostly particles interacts with matter.
“With every neutrino interaction recorded, we learn more about these particles and their role in shaping our universe,” said James Siegrist, DOE Associate Director of Science for High Energy Physics.
NOvA’s particle detectors were both constructed in the path of the neutrino beam sent from Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois , to northern Minnesota. The 300-ton near detector, installed underground at the laboratory, observes the neutrinos as they embark on their near-light-speed journey through the earth, with no tunnel needed. The 14,000-ton far detector – constructed in Ash River, Minnesota, near the Canadian border – spots those neutrinos after their 500-mile trip, and allows scientists to analyze how they change over that long distance.
The far detector in Minnesota is believed to be the largest free-standing plastic structure in the world, at 200 feet long, 50 feet high and 50 feet wide. Both detectors are constructed from PVC, and filled with a scintillating liquid that gives off light when a neutrino interacts with it. Fiber optic cables transmit that light to a data acquisition system, which creates 3-D pictures of those interactions for scientists to analyze.
The NOvA far detector in Ash River saw its first long-distance neutrinos in November 2013. The far detector is operated by the University of Minnesota under an agreement with Fermilab, and students at the university were employed to manufacture the component parts of both detectors.
“Building the NOvA detectors was a wide-ranging effort that involved hundreds of people in several countries,” said Gary Feldman, co-spokesperson of the NOvA experiment. “To see the construction completed and the operations phase beginning is a victory for all of us, and a testament to the hard work of the entire collaboration.”
The NOvA collaboration comprises 208 scientists from 38 institutions in the United States, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Greece, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. The experiment receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies.
Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC.
The Daily Galaxy via www.fnal.gov