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NOvA receives funding

NuMi Beam
The NuMI Horn 1 generates a magnetic field to increase the intensity of the neutrino beam that will zip underground from the Fermi Natiional Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago to the new NOvA lab at Ash River.
Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

The School of Physics and Astronomy has received $45.6 million from the Department of Energy to build a new lab in northern Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL ( 10/31/2007 ) – The University of Minnesota announced today that the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science has awarded a $45.6 million, four-year cooperative agreement to the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy to build a new international physics laboratory near the Ash River, about 40 miles southeast of International Falls, Minn.

Building the lab is the first step in an estimated $250 million project to be funded by the Department of Energy to further study neutrinos, fundamental building blocks of matter that can help researchers discover how the Universe was formed and how it will develop in the future.

The proposed laboratory, named the NuMI Off-Axis Electron Neutrino Appearance (NOvA) Detector Facility at Ash River Site, will be constructed on a 90-acre site about one mile south of Voyageurs National Park and will be operated by an international group of scientists known as the NOvA Collaboration.

This new laboratory expands the university’s international reputation as a leader in cutting-edge research on neutrinos. The University of Minnesota currently runs the Soudan Underground Science Laboratory near Tower, Minn., the only laboratory of its kind in the United States. The Department of Energy Office of Science also provides funding for this laboratory.

“The planning for the NOvA Facility has been years in the making, and we’re very pleased that it will soon become a reality,” said University of Minnesota physics professor Marvin Marshak, a lead faculty member on the project. “This project will provide tremendous opportunities for University of Minnesota faculty and students to work with experts around the world on important research that could unlock clues to the formation of our Universe.”

When the new neutrino laboratory is completed, the University of Minnesota will collaborate with approximately 200 scientists and engineers from 33 institutions in seven countries to build a 15,000-ton neutrino detector and install this device in the laboratory. This neutrino detector will cost about $150 million. The Department of Energy is expected to provide most of these funds.

The Department of Energy also plans to invest approximately $50 million into improvements of the existing neutrino beam that now sends neutrinos from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) near Chicago to the University’s Soudan Underground Science Laboratory. The Neutrino Detector near Ash River will utilize this same beam at a distance about 50 miles further from Fermilab than Soudan.

“This level of funding commitment from the Department of Energy demonstrates that the University of Minnesota is among the top public research universities in the country,” said Steven L. Crouch, dean of the Institute of Technology, the university’s college of engineering, physical sciences and mathematics. “We are a leader on the world stage in this type of physics research.”

A high level of international interest in studying neutrinos has continued to develop in recent years. Neutrinos comprise three of the 12 fundamental building blocks of matter. They exist in large numbers in the Universe, due to production during the Big Bang and ongoing production in stars and by the cosmic rays that are naturally incident on the Earth from outer space.

During the past two decades, studies in several parts of the world indicated that neutrinos have mass, contrary to previous expectations. Neutrino mass can be measured by observing a process known as neutrino oscillations, in which neutrinos spontaneously change from one type to another. The MINOS Far Detector that is currently operating in the University’s Soudan Laboratory studies the spontaneous transition of muon-type neutrinos to tau-type neutrinos.

The University’s new NOvA Detector will search for a transition of muon-type neutrinos to electron-type neutrinos. This process is expected to occur, but has not yet been observed. Studies of this process are expected to yield information about the nature of one of the fundamental forces in the Universe, known as the weak interaction. Another goal is to probe the possibility that the unusual properties of neutrinos are related to the absence of large quantities of anti-matter in the Universe. A complementary experiment is under construction in Japan.

“This is a great example of how universities are an integral part of the Department of Energy’s scientific research program,” said Dr. Robin Staffin, senior advisor to the director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. “NOvA will be at the forefront of neutrino science in the next decade, but we would not be able to do it without outstanding research groups like the University of Minnesota.”

In addition to Marshak, other University of Minnesota professors involved in the NOvA project include Kenneth Heller, Dan Cronin-Hennessy, Earl Peterson, Ronald Poling, Keith Ruddick and Roger Rusack. William Miller is the Supervisor for the University’s Laboratories at Soudan and Ash River.

The University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy is part of the Institute of Technology, the university’s college of engineering, physical sciences and mathematics.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the nation and helps ensure U.S. world leadership across a broad range of scientific disciplines. The Office of Science supports a diverse portfolio of research at more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide, manages 10 world-class national laboratories with unmatched capabilities for solving complex interdisciplinary scientific problems, and builds and operates the world’s finest suite of scientific facilities and instruments used annually by more than 21,500 researchers to extend the frontiers of all areas of science.