SDSU Commences Ground Breaking To Begin Construction Of 800-Mile Underground Neutrino Facility

Construction for the huge underground facility that will be used to learn more about neutrinos finally began on July 21, when South Dakota State University led the ground breaking ceremony at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead.

A simultaneous ceremony was also held at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, which is set to be the other end of the 800-mile (1,287 kilometers) deep underground facility for the international physics research project.

Physicists proposed the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) to the U.S. government in 2014 to seek financial support, so the ground breaking for the facility is definitely a big win not only for particle physicists but for engineers, as well. This is because 1,000 engineers and scientists from 160 institutions across 30 countries are collaborating in the project in order to further knowledge on the elusive ghost particles that will allow scientists to understand how the sun works.

"We couldn't be more excited to be actually starting construction. We're absolutely thrilled that [the project] is moving forward and about what it's going to do for the U.S. scientifically," Mike Headley said. Headley is the head of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, as well as the director of SURF.

Preparations For LBNF

The groundbreaking is already a big accomplishment for the scientific community since it has been pushing for the project since the early 2000s but it will take a while before LBNF will be completed. In fact, it is estimated that the facility will be completed after 10 years, with initial excavation of the chambers taking roughly three years before the next phase could begin.

Four chambers measuring about 70 meters long by 20 meters wide by 29 meters high are needed to house the steel tanks for the neutrino detector.

"In the underground construction business, it's a medium to medium-large project," Tracy Lundin said. Lundin is a civil engineer at Fermilab and LBNF project manager for conventional facilities.

While the excavation is happening, collaborators in the project will work on developing the prototype for the neutrino detector called Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

Once the tunnel is ready for the next phase, the walls need to be lined with thick steel tanks that will hold 70,000 tons of ultrapure liquid Argon for DUNE. Filling the tanks alone would take seven months to a year each, and there is still much work to be done after that.

The Wait Will Be Worth It

Despite the hard work needed for LBNF, scientists believe the efforts will be worth it once DUNE is up and running.

"The experiments conducted at DUNE will develop new scientists and engineers with a robust analytical tool kit that can be applied to many other fields. Neutrino detection will help us better understand how the sun works ... That would not only benefit commercial fusion, but our understanding of space weather as well," associate physics professor Rob McTaggart said.

Even other scientists are excited about the possibilities DUNE would create.

"DUNE has other capabilities, too. The Standard Model predicts that protons are stable and do not decay. If DUNE sees proton decay, this will teach us something very profound about the universe and will do so at energies much higher than those accessible to the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world's highest-energy particle accelerator," Fermilab senior scientist Don Lincoln expressed.

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