Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and its international partners on Nov. 14 broke ground on an innovative experiment that aims to answer some of the biggest questions about the universe.
The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility will one day produce the world’s most intense, high-energy neutrino beam, sending trillions of particles 1,300 kilometers underground to South Dakota as part of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Hosted by Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy lab affiliated with the University of Chicago, DUNE brings together more than 1,000 people from 30-plus countries to tackle questions that keep physicists awake at night: Why is the universe full of matter and not antimatter, or no matter at all? Do protons, one of the building blocks of atoms (and of us), ever decay? How do black holes form?
DUNE will look at mysterious subatomic particles called neutrinos: neutral, wispy wraiths that rarely interact with matter, but are thought to hold the keys to many of these mysteries.
Because neutrinos are so antisocial, scientists have to build enormous particle detectors to catch and study them. These behemoth neutrino traps will contain a total of 70,000 tons of liquid argon at their home 1.5 kilometers below the rock in the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota.
That’s where Fermilab’s particle accelerator complex comes in. At Fermilab, the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility will produce a beam of intense neutrinos and send them straight through 1,300 kilometers of earth all the way to South Dakota.
The twist? Fermilab’s existing particle accelerators propel protons—useful particles, but not the ones that neutrino scientists want to study. So how do researchers plan to turn Fermilab’s first megawatt beam of protons into the trillions of high-energy neutrinos per second they need for DUNE? For that scientists turn to the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, or LBNF.