UK builds vital component of global neutrino experiment

16 January 2018

The UK has built an essential piece of the globally-anticipated DUNE experiment, which will study the differences between neutrinos and anti-neutrinos in a bid to understand how the Universe came to be made up of matter.

Vital components of the DUNE detectors have been constructed in the UK and have now been shipped to CERN for initial testing, marking a significant milestone for the experiment’s progress.

DUNE (the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment) is a flagship international experiment run by the United States Department of Energy’s Fermilab that involves over 1,000 scientists from 31 countries. Various elements of the experiment are under construction across the world, with the UK taking a major role in contributing essential expertise and components to the experiment and facility.

Using a particle accelerator, an intense beam of neutrinos will be fired 800 miles through the earth from Fermilab in Chicago to the DUNE experiment in South Dakota. There the incoming beam will be studied using DUNE’s liquid-argon detector.

The DUNE project aims to advance our understanding of the origin and structure of the universe. One aspect of study is the behaviour of particles called neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos. This could provide insight as to why we live in a matter-dominated universe and inform the debate on why the universe survived the Big Bang.

A UK team has just completed their first prototype Anode Plane Assembly (APA), the largest component of the DUNE detector, to be used in the protoDUNE detector at CERN. The APA, which was built at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory, is the first such anode plane to ever have been built in the UK.

The APAs are large rectangular steel frames covered with approximately 4000 wires that are used to read the signal from particle tracks generated inside the liquid-argon detector. At 2.3m by 6.3m, the impressive frames are roughly as large as five full-size pool tables led side-by-side.

Dr Justin Evans of the University of Manchester, who is leading the protoDUNE APA-construction project in the UK, said: “This shipment marks the culmination of a year of very hard work by the team, which has members from STFC Daresbury and the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Lancaster. Constructing this anode plane has required relentless attention to detail, and huge dedication to addressing the challenges of building something for the first time. This is a major milestone on our way to doing exciting physics with the protoDUNE and DUNE detectors.”

These prototype frames were funded through an STFC grant. The 150 APAs that the UK will produce for the large-scale DUNE detector will be paid for as part of the £65million investment by the UK in the UK-US Science and Technology agreement, which was announced in September last year.

Mechanical engineer Alan Grant has led the organisation of the project on behalf of STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory. He said: “This is an exciting milestone for the UK’s contribution to the DUNE project.

“The planes are a vital part of the liquid-argon detectors and are one of the biggest component contributions the UK is making to DUNE, so it is thrilling to have the first one ready for shipping and testing.

“We have a busy few years ahead of us at the Daresbury Laboratory as we are planning to build 150 panels for one of DUNE’s modules, but we are looking forward to meeting the challenge.”

The UK’s first complete APA began the long journey to CERN by road on Friday (January 12), and arrived in Geneva today (January 16). Once successfully tested on the protoDUNE experiment at CERN, a full set of panels will be created and eventually be installed one-mile underground at Fermilab’s Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) in the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota.

This is the first such plane to be delivered by the UK to CERN for testing, with the second and third panels set to be shipped in spring. It is expected to take two to three years to produce the full 150 APAs for one module.

Professor Alfons Weber, of STFC and Oxford University, is the overall Principal Investigator of DUNE UK. He said: “We in the UK are gearing up to deliver several major components for the DUNE experiment and the LBNF facility, which also include the data acquisition system, accelerator components and the neutrino production target. These prototype APAs, which will be installed and tested at CERN, are one of the first major deliveries that will make this exciting experiment a reality.”

The DUNE APA consortium is led by Professor Stefan Söldner-Rembold of the University of Manchester, with contributions from several other North West universities including Liverpool, Sheffield and Lancaster.

Professor Söldner-Rembold said: “Each one of the four final DUNE modules will contain 17,000 tons of liquid argon. For a single module, 150 APAs will need to be built which represents a major construction challenge. We are working with UK industry to prepare this large construction project. The wires are kept under tension and we need to ensure that none of the wires will break during several decades of detector operation as the inside of the detector will not be accessible. The planes will now undergo rigorous testing to make sure they are up for the job.

“Physicists across the world are excited to see what DUNE will be capable of, as unlocking the secrets of the neutrino will help us understand more about the structure of the Universe.

“Although neutrinos are the second most abundant particle in the Universe, they are enormously difficult to catch as they have very nearly no mass, are not charged and rarely interact with other particles. This is why DUNE is such an exciting experiment and why we are celebrating this milestone in its construction.”

Christos Touramanis, from the University of Liverpool and co-spokesperson for the protoDUNE project, said: “ProtoDUNE is the first CERN experiment which is a prototype for an experiment at Fermilab, a demonstration of global strategy and coordination in modern particle physics. We in the UK have been instrumental in setting up protoDUNE and in addition to my role we provide leadership in the data acquisition sub-project, and of course anode planes.”

DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.

About DUNE

The international Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab, will provide insight into the origin of matter in the universe. LBNF will create the world’s most intense high-energy neutrino beam and send it 1300km from Fermilab in Illinois towards the 70,000 ton DUNE detector one mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in South Dakota. Once constructed, LBNF and DUNE will operate for at least 15 years undertaking a broad and exciting science programme.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC, a joint partnership between the University of Chicago and the Universities Research Association, Inc. Visit Fermilab’s website and follow us on Twitter.

More information about the facility and experiment can be found at:

Fermilab - Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF)
DUNE - An international mega-science project

UK involvement with the DUNE collaboration is through STFC and the following universities: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, Lancaster, Liverpool, UCL, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield, Sussex and Warwick. They provide essential expertise and components to the experiment and facility. This ranges from the high-power neutrino production target, the readout planes, accelerator development associated with PIP-II and data acquisitions systems to the reconstruction software.

STFC manages the UK’s investment in the international facility, giving UK scientists and engineers the chance to take a leading role in the management and development of the DUNE far detector and the LBNF beam line. The STFC Technology Department is also involved in the data acquisition system for the detector and in designing a high power neutrino production target.

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