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Kaler and others open NOvA far-detector facility in Northern Minnesota

Eric Kaler and Marvin Marshak
University President Eric Kaler is shown around the laboratory by Director Marvin Marshak
Reidar Hahn

On April 27, more than 250 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the NOvA far detector facility near the Ash River in northern Minnesota. On hand were Eric Kaler, President of the University of Minnesota, Pier Oddone, Director of Fermilab, Mos Kaveh, Associate Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota and Marvin L. Marshak, Director of the NOvA Ash River Laboratory. The 45 million dollar facility will be home to The NOvA far detector, which when complete, will be the largest plastic structure in the world.

Visiting dignitaries and local business people had a chance to see the building up close, including the shielded detector hall that is 280 feet long, 67 feet wide and features a 70-foot ceiling. To eliminate cosmic-ray radiation, the hall’s roof is shielded by four feet of concrete and covered by an additional six inches of barite. Attached to the hall is a 72-foot long assembly area and 124-foot loading dock area with space to house dual overhead cranes. The block pivoter, weighing more than 750,000 pounds, will be used in moving the more than 12,000 modules that comprise the neutrino detector into position.

The far detector will measure neutrinos produced at Fermilab near Chicago and sent hundreds of miles straight through the earth to the new laboratory. "As this remarkable NOvA facility opens, we celebrate a huge milestone on the journey to discover how our universe began," said Marvin Marshak, laboratory director and professor in the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy. "Together with our Soudan Underground Laboratory, the NOvA building further establishes the University of Minnesota and the state as international leaders in neutrino research."

Construction of the facility was supported under a cooperative agreement for research between the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Minnesota. The DOE Office of Science provided $40.1 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for construction of the project, which was managed by Fermilab. Adolfson & Peterson Construction, along with their subcontractors, successfully completed more than 140,000 hours of labor in building the NOvA laboratory, providing a boon to the local community’s economy in nearby Orr, Minn.

With the laboratory successfully completed, work can now begin on assembly and installation of the neutrino detector. Each of the more than 12,000 modules will be made at the University of Minnesota Module Factory, under the leadership of Professors Dan Cronin-Hennessy and Ken Heller, and factory coordinator Nathaniel Pearson.

An additional $9.9 million in Recovery Act funding is being supplied to Fermilab for purchasing key high-tech components from U.S. companies, enabling those firms to retain and hire workers. Starting in May, Fermilab will upgrade its complex of accelerators to provide the world’s most powerful beam of neutrinos to Minnesota.

"Neutrinos could be the key to understanding why matter exists," said Fermilab Director Pier Oddone. "After years of preparation, we’re excited to see the NOvA experiment come together, and can’t wait until the first neutrinos make their way through this cutting-edge detector."

Truly an international collaboration, the $283 million NOvA experiment involves nearly 180 scientists and engineers from 28 institutions in seven countries. When the detector in Minnesota is completed, physicists will explore the mysterious behavior of neutrinos by examining pulses of the subatomic particles two times - as they leave Fermilab’s Illinois site and as they pass through the detector facility in Minnesota. The neutrinos travel the 500 miles in less than three milliseconds.