Groundbreaking work on the physics of neutrinos

Neutrinos don’t accumulate mass using the Higgs mechanism, as revealed by the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Credit:

Excerpted from the article of the same title,, 14 December 2017.

There is an unwritten law of physics that says any world-class science, construction or arts project must have a New Zealander in its team.

(DUNE’s Mark Thomson adds “and any world-class rugby side must have 15 New Zealanders…”)

No surprise then, to find noted in October’s Scientific American magazine that a Kiwi, Stephen Parke, figures prominently in the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

This is a US$1.5 billion project whose ambitious goal is to advance our knowledge of the fundamental physics of the Universe.

Parke is a neutrino expert based at Fermilab, a giant particle accelerator near Chicago.

The DUNE project scheduled to be operating in the 2020s, will send a beam of neutrinos from Fermilab, through the Earth to a detector located 1300kms away in South Dakota.

DUNE’s sophisticated equipment will be able to count the neutrinos reaching the detector and to measure some of the key properties of these ghost-like particles as they make their journey…

DUNE has been designed to be able to count neutrino oscillations during the 1300kms journey and from this it will be possible, for the first time, to deduce the relative masses of the three neutrino types.

The neutrino beam will be generated at Fermilab by smashing protons into graphite. The detector in South Dakota comprises four Olympic swimming pool sized tanks containing 17,000 tonnes of liquid argon, 210 metres underground.

This exotic underground detector is necessary because it is extremely difficult to make neutrinos interact with matter and reveal their presence.

Of the billions of neutrinos produced by the accelerator every second, it is hoped that about 20 neutrinos will be detected per day.

The power and precision of the equipment are what make DUNE special — all going well it should make new discoveries in physics and possibly deliver one or more Nobel prizes, including one, maybe, to a New Zealander?

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