Revolutionizing DUNE: Designing detectors for the neutrino detective

Scientists propose a modification to the far DUNE detector to enhance its sensitivity to detect neutrinos from various astrophysical sources beyond the neutrino beam created at Fermilab.
Tejasri Gururaj
Inside one of the prototype detectors of DUNE.
Inside one of the prototype detectors of DUNE.


Every second, over 100 trillion neutrinos flow through our bodies without our knowledge. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are abundant in the universe. They have a unique property — they rarely interact with other matter, making them elusive and hard to detect.

Studying neutrinos can provide critical insights into fundamental questions about the universe, as they are potential candidates for dark matter.

The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) is an international, cutting-edge experiment dedicated to studying neutrinos. The international research team's goal is to develop ultrasensitive detectors for observing and studying neutrinos.

This ambitious experiment represents a collaboration of over 1,700 scientists from 38 countries, united in their pursuit of unraveling the mysteries surrounding neutrinos and advancing our understanding of the universe's most elusive particles.

Recently, scientists Chris Jackson and Eric Church from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) published a paper regarding a new detector design for the DUNE project. Jackson and Church, part of the DUNE project, propose fine-tuning the design to enhance the sensitivity to physics beyond the original DUNE concept.

Large detectors for small particles

DUNE is made up of two neutrino detectors that are situated in the world's most powerful neutrino beam. One is located near the beam source at Fermilab in Illinois. 

The second, much larger detector is positioned more than a kilometer underground at the Sanford Underground Research Laboratory in South Dakota, which is 1,300 kilometers downstream of the neutrino source.

Revolutionizing DUNE: Designing detectors for the neutrino detective
DUNE consist of two neutrino detectors that aim to detect and study the elusive neutrinos.

The large scale of the second detector is crucial because neutrinos interact so rarely with matter that it requires massive volumes of detector material to increase the chances of capturing neutrino events.

The second detector is composed of four different modules, each approximately three times the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Collectively, these modules contain nearly 70,000 tons of liquid argon. 

Neutrinos, being notoriously weakly interacting, interact with the argon nuclei in the detector, producing distinct signals that can be identified and analyzed.

Collaborating with a high school teacher

Jackson and Church collaborated with a high school physics teacher, Sylvia Munson, to conduct simulations for their proposed new detector design called SLoMo (Sanford Underground Low background Module).

Munson played a vital role in running the simulations to test the capabilities of the SLoMo detector and is a co-author of the paper. These simulations were crucial in assessing how the new detector design would enhance the sensitivity of DUNE to neutrinos emitted from sources other than the neutrino beam created at Fermilab.

The SLoMo design features additional shielding to minimize the impact of background noise, such as neutrons from surrounding rocks, thereby ensuring improved sensitivity to neutrino signals. 

The team's stringent radioactive background control measures effectively reduce interference, enabling accurate neutrino signal detection. Furthermore, they have incorporated enhanced light detection mechanisms, essential for precisely capturing neutrino interactions in the detector.

The detector's improved sensitivity makes it competitive in detecting Weakly-Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), a leading candidate for dark matter particles alongside neutrinos. 

This is on par with other advanced research programs around the world. Moreover, the detector can identify WIMPs uniquely by observing seasonal variations, a unique characteristic of these elusive particles.

The study has been published in the Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics.

Study abstract:

We find that it is possible to increase sensitivity to low energy physics in a third or fourth Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)-like module with careful controls over radiopurity and targeted modifications to a detector similar to the DUNE Far Detector design. In particular, sensitivity to supernova and solar neutrinos can be enhanced with improved MeV-scale reach. A neutrinoless double beta decay search with 136Xe loading appears feasible. Furthermore, sensitivity to Weakly-Interacting Massive Particle (WIMP) Dark Matter becomes competitive with the planned world program in such a detector, offering a unique seasonal variation detection that is characteristic of the nature of WIMPs.

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