Excavators have completed the excavation of three colossal underground caverns, together covering an area roughly three football fields, to house the particle detectors for Fermilab’s Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). Neutrinos are electrically neutral and almost massless particles. These are the lightest particles in the universe, they are ghostly and pass through matter with ease. The Sun produces billions of neutrinos that pass harmlessly through the human body, without us realizing it. Neutrinos are very difficult to study and were discovered 26 years after they were first theoretically predicted. Ongoing scientific efforts have been directed toward pinpointing the mass of neutrinos, determining whether they are their own antiparticles, and discovering how they interact with matter.
Specifically, DUNE was created to investigate a phenomenon known as neutrino oscillation, in which different types of neutrinos contain different amounts of mass. Scientists will examine neutrinos produced by the violent death of distant stars, in addition to studying neutrinos produced by Fermilab itself, at a distance of 1,300 kilometers from the detectors. The neutrino beam is expected to travel directly through the Earth’s crust, without the need for a tunnel. Some 800,000 tonnes of rock were excavated and transported to a former mining area on the surface.
The team plans to begin installation of the insulated steel structure that will house the first of four particle detectors later this year. The team hopes to have the first detector in operation by 2028. Excavation Director Michael Gemelli says: “The success of this phase of the project can be attributed to the safe and dedicated work of the excavation workers, the multidisciplinary team background of project engineers and support staff. What a remarkable achievement and milestone for this international project.” Like most particle physics experiments, DUNE is a massive collaboration between 1,400 scientists from 200 institutions in 36 countries.