"Neutrino" detector may shed light on some fundamental mysteries of universe

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Washington, January 10 (ANI): If physicists have their way, then the prototype for a 278 million dollars "neutrino" detector in northern Minnesota in the US, may start providing data on some fundamental mysteries of the universe, as soon as late summer this year.

Construction is underway now on a 220-ton detector that is the "integration prototype" for a much larger 14,000-ton detector.

Both are part of NOvA, a cooperative project of the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago and the University of Minnesota's school of physics and astronomy.

The project may ultimately aid understanding of matter and dark matter, how the universe formed and evolved, and current astrophysical events.

DOE gave approval on October 29, 2009 for "full construction start" as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

There are 180 scientists and engineers from 28 institutions around the world collaborating on NOvA.

The integration prototype, known as the Near Detector because it's at Fermilab, and the larger detector, known as the Far Detector because it's farther from Fermilab - are essentially hundreds of thousands of plastic tubes enclosing a massive amount of highly purified mineral oil.

The purpose is to detect the highly significant fundamental subatomic particle called the "neutrino" and better understand its nature.

"The 'detector prototype' has two purposes," said John Cooper, NOvA project manager at Fermilab.

"First, it serves as an 'integration prototype' forcing us to find all the problems on a real device, and second it will become the 'Near Detector' at Fermilab," he said.

The integration prototype will operate on the surface at Fermilab for about a year starting in late summer 2010, according to Cooper.

"Then in 2012, it will move 300 feet underground to become the Near Detector," he said.

A hard-to-observe fundamental particle that travels alone, the neutrino has little or no mass, so rarely interacts with other particles.

Neutrinos are ubiquitous throughout our universe. They were produced during the Big Bang, and many of those are still around.

"Scientists at the new detectors will analyze data from Fermilab's neutrino beam to observe evidence of neutrinos when the speedy, lightweight particles occasionally smash into the carbon nuclei in the scintillating oil of the detector, causing a burst of light flashes," said Thomas Coan, a scientist on the collaboration team.

The detector should be fully operational by September 2013, according to Fermilab. (ANI)

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