This mega science experiment wants to solve one of the biggest mysteries in science today, namely, why do we exist?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018

Buried 4,850 feet underground in an abandoned gold mine, scientists are attempting to solve some of the biggest mysteries in our universe. They’re hunting for something so elusive that they have to build massive detectors the size of olympic swimming pools and fill them with 70,000 tons of liquid, just to catch them. And, if all goes according to plan, this mega science experiment could answer some of the deepest questions in the cosmos, including, why we’re all here. They’re looking for time traveling particles called, neutrinos.

Neutrinos are tiny particles in the electron family. They are extremely light and they don't interact, they don't hit much at all. So, for the most part, they pass right through us, and they're very abundant. Right now, there are 65 billion neutrinos passing through you, without a care to your existence. They’re considered fundamental building blocks of matter, in essence, what we’re all made of -- and they’re part of something called the Standard Model. The standard model is to particle physics like the periodic table is to chemistry. It's comprised of these 12 building blocks of matter and the forces. Neutrinos are considered outliers of the Standard Model because they only interact through the one of the fundamental forces of nature, the weak force, and thus, are very difficult to detect. They’re also at the heart of one of the most fundamental questions. Which is, why after the Big Bang, did we come into existence?

To attempt to answer this, physicists are constructing ambitious experiments in exotic locations to catch them. These detectors are marvels of extreme engineering. There’s the Ice Cube, a gigaton neutrino detector that's buried over 2,000 meters underground in the South Pole. Super Kamiokande in Japan, which is a detector with 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water sitting underneath a mountain. SNOLAB, located in an active nickel mine in Canada, and finally KM3net which is located at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Many of these neutrino detectors are underground to protect them from the bath of cosmic ray backgrounds that are produced and that rain down on us in the above atmosphere. And the latest neutrino detector that just broke ground is DUNE, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. DUNE is by far the biggest neutrino experiment that's ever been undertaken in the world. The biggest because they’re using a particle beam from Fermilab in Chicago to shoot neutrinos and antineutrinos through the Earth and on a wild 800 mile ride to South Dakota, where they’ll be detected.

The construction for DUNE is a mammoth undertaking and won’t be fully operational until 2027. The hope is that DUNE could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the universe we all live in. Or unlock a whole new class of physics. Or both. 

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