25 July 2017
The DUNE neutrino beam will travel 800 miles through Earth. Credit Sandbox Studio/Fermilab

Construction has begun on a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. 

The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

DUNE will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries, including Dr Jarek Nowak, Dr Andy Blake and Professor Peter Ratoff from the Department of Physics at Lancaster.

This milestone is the next chapter in a long history of UK research collaboration with the United States, particularly Fermilab, and when complete, LBNF/DUNE will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos. Unlocking the mysteries of these particles could help explain more about how the universe works, and why matter exists at all.

Executive Director of Programmes at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Grahame Blair, attended the event and said of the project: “The ground-breaking ceremony is a significant milestone in what is an extremely exciting prospect for the UK scientific community.

"The DUNE project will delve deeper into solving the unanswered questions of our universe; opening the doors to a whole new set of tools to probe its constituents at a very fundamental level, indeed, even addressing how it came to be.

"International partnerships are key to building these leading-edge experiments, which explore the origins of the universe, and I am very happy to represent the UK research community here today.”

Mark Thomson, from the University of Cambridge and co-spokesperson of the DUNE collaboration, said: “The international DUNE collaboration came together to realize a dream of a game-changing program of neutrino science; today represents a major milestone in turning this dream into reality."

STFC’s Particle Physics Department is providing essential services to the experiment. The STFC Technology department is also involved in the data acquisition system for the detector and in designing a high power neutrino production target.

One aspect DUNE scientists will look for is the differences in behaviour between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why we live in a matter-dominated universe – in other words, why we are all here, instead of having been annihilated just after the Big Bang. 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.

The DUNE experiment will attract students and young scientists from around the world, helping to foster the next generation of leaders in the field and to maintain the highly skilled scientific workforce worldwide.