Latest Fermilab experiment a step closer to launch

BATAVIA – Fermilab is one step closer to starting a large experiment after moving a 13-ton block underground Friday.

The block actually is a piece of the NOvA near detector, located 350 feet under the Fermilab campus in Batavia. A crew Friday morning used a crane to lower the massive block down a large shaft.

The near detector at Fermilab will be used with another detector in northern Minnesota to conduct The NOvA Neutrino Experiment.

Neutrinos are among the most abundant particles in the universe, according to Fermilab.

The experiment will help scientists determine the role that neutrinos played in the evolution of the universe.

“The neutrino is a quiet light ... hard to detect,” said Xuebing Bu, level 3 project manager for the experiment. Bu on Friday stood with his fellow NOvA collaborators next to the other seven large blocks of the near detector. All researchers get to the detector on a two-minute industrial elevator ride below ground level.

Bu explained that he and his fellow researchers have to use a particle accelerator like the one at Fermilab to produce intense beams with many neutrinos. By building up the volume of neutrinos, it will be easier for the big detectors at Fermilab and Minnesota to spot the infinitely small particles.

Researchers said they will send the neutrino beams underground straight through the earth and close to the speed of light to the NOvA far detector in Ash River, Minn.

The block moved Friday was the eighth and final block needed for the Fermilab detector. The process to get it down to the underground facility took about 25 minutes, including attaching the crane and lowering the block onto a platform at the bottom of the shaft.

Once the block from Friday’s move is added at Fermilab, the researchers will begin to fill the entire detector with a liquid through which the particles will interact. Filling liquid and also adding electronic equipment to the detector likely will last through this spring, said Karen Kephart, assistant division head for Fermilab’s Particle Physics division.

The entire far detector in Minnesota will be complete and ready to operate this summer. It is more than three times as high and wide as the detector at Fermilab.

“They make you feel real small when you are standing at the bottom of them,” Kephart said of the detectors.