ProtoDUNE proves out at CERN

September 25, 2018

LEAD — A prototype neutrino detector in Switzerland is brining scientists in Lead one step closer to understanding the complex nature of our universe.

Two years in the making, a neutrino detector built at CERN for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which is being used as the prototype for the much larger Long Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) detectors that will be housed at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, has recorded its first particle tracks.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and is located in Geneva Switzerland.

The protoDUNE detector at CERN is the size of a three-story house and is filled with 800 tons of liquid argon; however, it is only 1/20 the size of the full-scale detectors that will be built a mile underground at SURF. When neutrinos come into contact with the argon nuclei in the detector, they produce differently charged particles, which in turn leave ionized tracks as they travel through the liquid argon. The protoDUNE detected neutrinos from cosmic rays as well as a direct beam generated at CERN’s accelerator complex.

This process will be replicated when the LBNF is ready to record its first dataset in 2026. An accelerator complex at Fermilab similar to the one at CERN will fire a concentrated beam of Neutrinos 800 miles underground to the LBNF at SURF, which will be filled with 70,000 tons of liquid argon. The particle tracks detected by the protoDUNE provide the first concrete, tangible evidence that this process of neutrino detection could generate the data scientist need to solve some of the biggest questions in the universe.

At the Sept. 18 South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) board meeting, Executive Director Mike Headley gave an update on the prototDUNE project.

“They just finished filling it with liquid argon,” Headley said. “They have actually seen the first tracks in the single phase detector.”

Dr. Robert Wilson, who is a lead collaborator for DUNE, said the data collected by the protoDUNE is a monumental step forward in the process of building the world’s largest neutrino detector experiment.

“I’ve been holding my breath for most of the past week,” Wilson said via teleconference at the SDSTA board meeting. “It went up smoothly with no significant problems, which I think could be the first time that’s happened (with other detectors of its kind).”

The comment was made by SDSTA Board Chairperson Casey Peterson that the precision needed to set up the protoDUNE equated with sending a craft into space.

“It’s not quite that bad,” Wilson responded. “But you can’t go in and do the thing again because of the large volume of cryogenic liquid. It will be much more so when we’re at SURF.”

The experiment proves to researchers that the process with which they are attempting to detect neutrinos is a viable option and is ready to be applied to the much larger scaled experiment that will take place at Fermilab in Illinois and SURF.

“Seeing the first particle tracks is a major success for the entire DUNE collaboration,” said DUNE co-spokesperson Stefan Soldner-Rembold of the University of Manchester, UK, in a prepared statement Tuesday. “DUNE is the largest collaboration of scientists working on neutrino research in the world, with the intention of creating a cutting-edge experiment that could change the way we see the universe.”

Senior Lab Project Engineer David Taylor also gave an update during the SDSTA meeting on the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment, which is being assembled at the surface lab at SURF before being transported to the newly renovated Davis Campus at the 4,850-foot level. Taylor explained that the LZ experiment would be 100 times more sensitive than its predecessor the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment, which used liquid xenon to create the quietist dark matter detector in the world. The10.7 metric tons of liquid xenon that will be used in LZ must first stop off at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California to have trace amounts of krypton removed to make it pure enough for the experiment. The purification system designed by a team led by Dan Akerib and Tom Shutt is in the process of sending the xenon through two carbon towers, producing xenon that is 100 times more pure than that used in LUX. Before the detectors and liquid xenon tanks can be installed in the Davis Campus, the cryogenic system must be set in place.

“We have a big liquid nitrogen tank being manufactured in the United Kingdom,” Taylor said. “A cryo cooler made in the Netherlands is shipping to us any day now.”

Taylor said that within the next month and a half, elements for LZ should be making their way down to the Davis Campus.

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