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UK invests £65 million in international science projects hosted by Fermilab

23 January 2020

Representatives from UK Research and Innovation and the US Department of Energy have signed an agreement that outlines £65 million worth of contributions that UK research institutions and scientists will make to the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) and related projects hosted by DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. DUNE will study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos, which could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.

UK scientists have held leadership positions in DUNE since the inception of the collaboration in 2015. The agreement gives the green light to build major components in the UK for this megascience project. That includes setting up the required lab space and infrastructure at UK research institutions as well as hiring and training personnel.

The UK investments in these international science projects and participation in the design and construction of cutting-edge scientific equipment for these projects will empower UK scientists and institutions to maintain a world leader position in research for years to come.

“The UK’s continued collaboration with the US on science and innovation reinforces the importance the scientific communities of both countries place on working together to try and answer some of the biggest questions in physics, questions which have the potential to lead to profound changes in our understanding of the universe,” said Professor Mark Thomson, particle physicist and executive chair of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.

“This investment by STFC secures future access for UK scientists to the international DUNE experiment as well as giving UK scientists and engineers the chance to take leading roles in the management and development of the DUNE far detector and also the LBNF neutrino beam and the associated PIP-II accelerator,” Thomson said.

DUNE is the first large-scale US-hosted experiment run as a truly international project, with more than 1,000 scientists and engineers from over 30 countries contributing to the design, construction and operation of the facilities and scientific equipment. The UK research community is a major contributor to the DUNE collaboration, with 14 UK universities and two STFC laboratories providing essential expertise and components to the experiment and facility.

The agreement was signed by UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore and Chris Fall, Director of the US Department of Energy Office of Science.

“Our collaboration with the UK remains a cornerstone of DOE’s international partnerships in high-energy physics,” said Chris Fall. “Those partnerships are key to building world-class projects like PIP-II and LBNF/DUNE, hosted by Fermilab, and we are pleased to see our long history of scientific kinship with the UK in this field continue.”

The agreement is a new chapter in the long history of UK research collaboration with the United States. UK contributions will include:

  • The Proton Improvement Plan II (PIP-II) accelerator complex upgrade at Fermilab has provided STFC with a significant opportunity to contribute critical accelerator technologies to enable 1.2 MegaWatts of proton beam power to be used to generate the world’s most powerful and intense source of neutrinos for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) in the USA. STFC’s Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC) and Technology Department at our Daresbury Laboratory in Warrington have responsibility for procuring, testing and integrating all of the high energy superconducting accelerating cryomodules, which will be safely transported to Fermilab for final stage qualification and installation in the PIP-II accelerator complex by 2025/26. The UK technology delivery programme for PIP-II also incorporates strong collaboration with The Welding Institute (TWI) in Cambridge to develop first UK industry demonstration of superconducting accelerator fabrication capability. These accelerator components also have applications in other science projects and have promising potential for use in medical, industrial and environmental applications.
  • Design and production of the high-power target for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility that scientists will use to produce the neutrinos for DUNE. The work, carried out at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK with the High Power Targets Group, will also advance research efforts in materials science and nuclear physics.
  • Design and assembly of 150 very large particle detector components known as anode plane assemblies that each comprise thousands of delicate sensor wires. The APAs enable scientists to record high-resolution 3D images of subatomic particle tracks produced in neutrino interactions. (APA “factory” at Daresbury).
  • Development of the data acquisition systems and reconstruction software. Each DUNE module will produce one terabyte of data per second, equivalent to about 1,000 one-hour-long HD movies. Reading out this vast amount of data, and then finding and reconstructing the neutrino interactions, is one of the big challenges. STFC’s Technology Department are part of this team.
  • Building and shipping major components of the Short-Baseline Near Detector, one of three detectors that make up Fermilab’s Short-Baseline Neutrino program.

DUNE will send neutrinos 1300 kilometres from Fermilab in Illinois to huge particle detectors 1.5 kilometres underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota in order to study neutrino oscillations. Scientists will look for the differences in behaviour between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, which could provide clues as to why we live in a matter-dominated universe.

Dune experiment (Credit: Fermilab)

DUNE scientists will also watch for neutrinos stemming from a supernova, or star explosion, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes. Another goal of DUNE is to look for signals from proton decay. Scientists will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually fall apart, bringing us closer to fully understanding the fundamental forces of nature.

DUNE will help to recruit and train the next generation of particle physicists, giving students at universities around the world the opportunity to publish scientific papers and get hands-on training on one of the world’s most advanced physics projects.

The investment from UK Research and Innovations’ Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is made up of a number of four-year construction grants to a group of UK universities as well as to the technology teams at STFC’s RAL and Daresbury sites.

This investment by the UK is the first stage of two to support the DUNE construction project, which runs until 2026. This includes work to produce over 150 Anode Plane Assembly (APA), the largest component of the DUNE detector.

This investment by STFC on behalf of the UK secures future access for UK scientists to the international DUNE experiment as well as giving UK scientists and engineers the chance to take leading roles in the management and development of the DUNE far detector and also the LBNF neutrino beam and the associated PIP-II accelerator.

The UK universities involved in the project include Birmingham; Bristol; Cambridge; Edinburgh, Imperial College London; Lancaster, Liverpool; Manchester; Oxford; Sheffield; Sussex; UCL and Warwick.

Professor Alfons Weber from the University of Oxford, who is leading the project in the UK, says: “DUNE will be an exciting experiment and it is fantastic to see how the UK is supporting fundamental science. This announcement has allowed us to take a lead in many aspects of the experiment as the biggest contributor outside the USA. We have a significant task ahead of us in the coming years and we are looking forward to delivering our contributions.”

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Last updated: 24 January 2020

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