The excavation of the three caves in which the gigantic particle detectors of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (Dune) project will be installed has been completed, one of the most ambitious scientific experiments ever conceived. Located 1.6 kilometers below the surface, in South Dakota, United States, the caves will house a new research center that covers an underground area the size of eight football fields.
Hosted by the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), Dune scientists aim to study the behavior of mysterious particles known as neutrinos to solve some of the biggest questions about the Universe. Why is it composed of matter? How does an exploding star create a black hole? Are neutrinos linked to dark matter or other unknown particles?
The caves provide space for four large neutrino detectors – each about the size of a seven-story building. The detectors will be filled with liquid argon and will record the rare interaction of neutrinos with the transparent liquid.
Trillions of neutrinos travel through our bodies every second, without us even realizing it. With Dune, scientists will look for neutrinos in exploding stars and examine the behavior of a beam of neutrinos produced at Fermilab, located near Chicago, about 800 miles east of the underground caverns. The beam, produced by the world’s most intense neutrino source, will travel through earth and rocks, from Fermilab to the Dune detectors in South Dakota.
“The completion of the excavation of these enormous caves is a significant achievement for the project,” said Chris Mossey, director of the initiative, in a statement released last Thursday (1st) by Fermilab’s press office. “Completion of this stage makes it possible to install the detectors,” he added.
Later this year, the team plans to begin installing the insulated steel structure that will house the first neutrino detector. The goal is to have the first operational detector by 2028.
The Dune collaboration, which includes more than 1,400 scientists and engineers from more than 200 institutions in 36 countries, successfully tested the technology and assembly process for the first detector. Mass production of its components has already begun. Testing of the technologies underlying both detectors is ongoing using particle beams at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) laboratory.
Brazilian researchers are also part of the international collaboration. Professors from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) Ettore Segreto and Ana Amélia Machado developed, with support from Fapesp, the photon detection system that will be used in the experiment, called X-Arapuca.