A nearly $300-million science project in Minnesota will likely started pumping out data late summer this year on some of the universe’s most elusive particles: neutrinos. This data, however, will far from answer any of science’s big questions until much later, as scientists delve in and begin the deciphering process.
This neutrino detector in Minnesota is being designated at this time as a prototype – an “integration prototype” – and will eventually lead up to the construction of a much larger, 14,000 ton version. Both detectors are projects of NOvA, a collaboration of the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Lab (near Chicago) and the University of Minnesota.
The Department of Energy had given the construction of the prototype detector on October 29, 2009, and now there are 180 international engineers and scientists working around the clock on the project.
This prototype detector is, for the most part, thousands upon thousands of plastic tubes enclosing a huge amount of purified mineral oil. When neutrinos collide occasionally with the carbon nuclei in the mineral oil, tiny bursts of light are the observed effect.
Neutrinos are incredibly elusive and difficult to study, though they are omnipresent throughout the universe. The researchers on this project hope that this new detector can help answer questions about the three types of neutrinos: electron, tau, and muon. The neutrinos “oscillate” from one type into another, which scientists hope to learn a bit more about shortly.
More about this project can be found at Southern Methodist University’s research department page.