This week, technicians in Minnesota began to position the first block of a detector that scientists at Fermilab in Batavia said will be part of the largest, most advanced neutrino experiment in North America.
The NuMI Off-Axis Neutrino Appearance experiment – NOvA for short – will study the properties of neutrinos, such as their masses, and investigate whether they helped give matter an edge over antimatter after both were created in equal amounts in the big bang. The experiment is on track to begin taking data in 2013.
“This is a significant step toward a greater understanding of neutrinos,” said Marvin Marshak, NOvA laboratory director and director of undergraduate research at the University of Minnesota, in a news release. “It represents many months of hard work on the part of the whole NOvA collaboration.”
The NOvA experiment will study a beam of neutrinos streaming about 500 miles through the Earth from the U.S. Energy Department’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago to a detector in Ash River, Minn.
The particles, generated in what will be the most powerful neutrino beam in the world, will make the trip in less than three milliseconds.
Neutrinos are elementary particles, basic building blocks of matter in the Standard Model of particle physics. They are almost without mass, and they interact so rarely with other matter that they can move straight through hundreds of miles of solid rock.
“Everyone’s been watching to see which experiment will make the next big step in uncovering the properties of neutrinos,” said Mark Messier, Indiana University physicist and co-spokesman of the NOvA experiment, in the release.
“The NOvA experiment should be it. It is uniquely positioned to be the first experiment to determine the ordering of the masses of the three neutrinos.”
The NOvA experiment is a collaboration of 169 scientists from 19 universities and laboratories in the U.S and another 15 institutions around the world.