- Press Release
- Feb 5, 2023
Construction begins on international mega-science experiment to understand neutrinos
With the turning of a shovelful of earth a mile underground, a new era in international particle physics research officially began today.
In a unique groundbreaking ceremony held this afternoon at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, a group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.
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.
At its peak, construction of LBNF is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs throughout South Dakota, and a similar number of jobs in Illinois. Institutions in dozens of countries will contribute to the construction of DUNE components. 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 in the United States and worldwide.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located outside Chicago, will generate a beam of neutrinos and send them 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through the earth to Sanford Lab, where a four-story-high, 70,000-ton detector will be built beneath the surface to catch those neutrinos.
Scientists will study the interactions of neutrinos in the detector, looking to better understand the changes these particles undergo as they travel across the country in less than the blink of an eye. Ever since their discovery 61 years ago, neutrinos have proven to be one of the most surprising subatomic particles, and the fact that they oscillate between three different states is one of their biggest surprises. That discovery began with a solar neutrino experiment led by physicist Ray Davis in the 1960s, performed in the same underground mine that now will house LBNF/DUNE. Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2002 for his experiment.
DUNE scientists will also look for the differences in behavior between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why the visible universe is dominated by matter. 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.
But first, the facility must be built, and that will happen over the next ten years. Now that the first shovel of earth has been moved, crews will begin to excavate more than 870,000 tons of rock to create the huge underground caverns for the DUNE detector. Large DUNE prototype detectors are under construction at European research center CERN, a major partner in the project, and the technology refined for those smaller versions will be tested and scaled up when the massive DUNE detectors are built.
This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from 30 countries. DUNE collaborators come from institutions in Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry
“The start of construction on this world-leading science experiment is cause for celebration, not just because of its positive impacts on the economy and on America’s strong relationships with our international partners, but also because of the fantastic discoveries that await us beyond the next horizon. I’m proud to support the efforts by Fermilab, Sanford Underground Research Facility, and CERN, and we’re pleased to see it moving forward.”
Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, Office of Science and Technology Policy
“Today’s groundbreaking for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility marks a historic moment for American leadership in science and technology. It also serves as a model for what the future of mega-science research looks like: an intensely collaborative effort between state, local and Federal governments, international partners, and enterprising corporate and philanthropic pioneers whose combined efforts will significantly increase our understanding of the universe. The White House celebrates today with everyone who is bringing this once-in-a-generation endeavor to life, including the men and women providing the logistical organization and financial capital to set the project on the right foot, the physical labor to construct these incredible facilities, and the scientific vision to discover new truths through their work here.”
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard
“This project will be one of the world’s most significant physics experiments conducted over the next several decades and today’s groundbreaking is another milestone in the development of the Sanford Underground Research Facility.”
U.S. Senator John Thune, South Dakota
“The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility continues Lead, South Dakota’s, tradition of cutting-edge neutrino research, dating back to physics experiments at the former Homestake Mine in the 1960s. When completed, the LBNF and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment will attract some of the world’s brightest scientists to South Dakota and push the boundaries of basic research, not to mention support good-paying jobs in the historic mining region of the Black Hills. I look forward to seeing the facility’s completion, and the groundbreaking experiments that will be done in the years to come.”
U.S. Senator Mike Rounds, South Dakota
“Today’s groundbreaking marks another significant step toward gaining a deeper understanding of the makeup of our universe. It is pretty remarkable that such world-class research continues to develop right here in Lead, South Dakota. When we began the process of securing an underground laboratory at South Dakota’s Homestake gold mine more than a decade ago, we were hopeful that it would lead to major advancements in particle physics and neutrino research. Today, those hopes are turning into reality as the Sanford Underground Research Facility, Fermilab and CERN join together to break ground on the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, which will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Today is a truly special day and I thank everyone involved in this collaboration for the years of hard work they’ve put into this project.”
U.S. Representative Kristi Noem, South Dakota
“In breaking ground today, we move closer to uncovering a new understanding of how the natural world works. That new knowledge could have a profound impact, potentially leading to faster global communications, better nuclear weapons detection technologies, and a whole new field of research. The future of science is happening right here in South Dakota.”
U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren, Illinois
“The LBNF/DUNE groundbreaking once again puts the United States in a leadership position on the world stage, attracting scientists from around the globe to the only place they can do their work. Fermilab attracts top talent, employing nearly 2,000 in Illinois and providing a strong economic engine in our state. I commend the work done by the Department of Energy, Fermilab and Sanford Lab to bring together a strong coalition to serve the research needs of the international community. With great anticipation I look forward to the new and breathtaking discoveries made at this facility. What we all can learn together will be awe-inspiring and uncover the new questions that will drive future generations of scientists in their quest for greater understanding.”
Director Nigel Lockyer, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
“Fermilab is proud to host the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment that brings together scientists from 30 countries in a quest to understand the neutrino. This is a true landmark day, and the start of a new era in global neutrino physics.”
Executive Director Mike Headley, Sanford Underground Research Facility
“The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority is proud to be hosting the LBNF at the Sanford Underground Research Facility. This milestone represents the start of construction of the largest mega-science project in the United States. We’re excited to be working with the project and the international DUNE collaboration and expanding our knowledge of the role neutrinos play in the makeup of the universe.”
Director-General Fabiola Gianotti, CERN
“Some of the open questions in fundamental physics today are related to extremely fascinating and elusive particles called neutrinos. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility in the United States, whose start of construction is officially inaugurated with today’s groundbreaking ceremony, brings together the international particle physics community to explore some of the most interesting properties of neutrinos.”
Executive Director of Programmes Grahame Blair, Science and Technology Facilities Council, United Kingdom
“The groundbreaking ceremony today is a significant milestone in what is an extremely exciting prospect for the UK research 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 be a representative of the international community here today.”
President Fernando Ferroni, National Institute for Nuclear Physics, Italy
“We are very proud of this great endeavour of Fermilab as its technology has roots in the work undertaken by Carlo Rubbia at the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy.”
Professor Ed Blucher, University of Chicago and co-spokesperson, DUNE collaboration
“Today is extremely exciting for all of us in the DUNE Collaboration. It marks the start of an incredibly challenging and ambitious experiment, which could have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe.”
Professor Mark Thomson, University of Cambridge and co-spokesperson, DUNE collaboration
“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.”
Illustrations and animations of the LBNF/DUNE project and its science goals are available at:
More information about the facility and experiment can be found at:
Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at www.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @Fermilab.
The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
Sanford Lab is operated by the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) with funding from the Department of Energy. Our mission is to advance compelling underground, multidisciplinary research in a safe work environment and to inspire and educate through science, technology, and engineering. Visit Sanford Lab at www.SanfordLab.org.