Scientists and engineers from around the world are involved in a groundbreaking project designed to unravel some of the mysteries of our universe. It’s called NOvA, and it’s a collaboration among about 170 scientists from 34 institutions around the globe. They are creating an experiment to detect and analyze one of the most abundant, yet least understood, particles in the universe, the neutrino.
Neutrinos are thought to be a billion times more abundant than the particles that make up all the stars, planets and people in the universe. Unimaginably large numbers of neutrinos are still present today from when the universe was created, and that’s what makes them so interesting to scientists. The problem is that although trillions of them pass through the earth and our bodies every second, they interact so rarely with other particles that they are very difficult to detect.
That’s why the NOvA project is utilizing one of the largest neutrino detectors ever built at two sites in the United States. Scientists generate a beam of the particles for the NOvA experiment using one of the world's largest accelerators, located at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (aka Fermilab) near Chicago. This accelerator transmits the most intense neutrino beam in the world through the earth, at nearly the speed of light. This beam is aimed at the two detectors; the near detector, which is built underground near the source at Fermilab, and the far detector, which is constructed 500 miles away near Ash River, Minn.
The far detector will be the largest freestanding plastic structure in the world. Made up of 28 PVC blocks, each 51 feet high and wide and 7 feet deep, the finished device will be about 200 feet long and weigh 500 metric tons. Take a look at this time-lapse video produced by Fermilab to get an idea of the massive scale of this construction project.
When complete, the far detector will be filled with transparent scintillating liquid and fitted with light sensitive sensors designed to capture and analyze the behavior of the elusive neutrino particles as they pass between the detectors.
The experiment will help answer some of the most important scientific questions about neutrino masses, neutrino oscillations and the role neutrinos may have played in the evolution of the universe. The scientists involved in the project hope they will find the answers to some of the most fundamental questions about energy, matter, space and time and further unlock the puzzle of how the universe was created.
Burns & McDonnell was proud to provide architectural and engineering design services for this innovative project. You can find out more about the NOvA project by watching this video from the Fermilab team and visiting the project at the NOvA website and the NOvA Far Detector Live Webcam.
Photo credit: Fermilab Visual Media Services