A Look At The NOvA Experiment
October 15, 2013

A Look At The NOvA Experiment

Despite all of our modern science, we still know so little about our universe. The more we learn, the more questions we unlock, yet this is what makes the learning so intriguing. While eventual answers are the goal, what will always be remembered is the journey to find them. That will be the greater experience. One such journey is currently taking shape at both the Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois and simultaneously near Ash River, Minnesota. This is called the NOvA Experiment, and it will be the most powerful neutrino experiment ever done in North America.

As mentioned in Findings at Fermilab, the NOvA Experiment is the latest major project undertaken by the good people at Fermilab. Started earlier this year, the NOvA Experiment is a collaboration among more than 170 scientists and researchers at 34 individual institutions all around the world. Currently under construction at both Fermilab and Ash River, the 360-ton near detector is being built underground at Fermilab, and will begin taking its first readings sometime this year (hopefully, pending funding) and the 14,000-ton far detector is being assembled at Ash River. Together, these two massive devices will be used to measure and study one of the most miniscule particles of our universe, the neutrino.

Neutrinos are one of the least understood, fundamental particles that make up our universe. Similar to electrons, neutrinos differ in that they do not carry any electric charge. This neutrality means that they are unaffected by the electromagnetic forces that act on normal electrons. Only weak, sub-atomic forces of much shorter range than electromagnetism are able to affect them, and because of this they are able to pass through other matter without ever being affected by it. In fact, there are billions of them passing though you and me right now.

The near and far detectors are both slated for completion sometime in 2014. Once they are, the far detector, which will be filled with a transparent liquid and set with light-sensitive sensors, will analyze a beam of neutrinos sent from the Fermilab, more than 500 miles away through solid earth. Through this experiment, researchers are looking to answer several fundamental questions regarding neutrinos, focusing only why only matter, and not equal parts matter and anti-matter, exist in our universe. The experiment will focus on muon neutrinos as they change into electron neutrinos, looking to discover which of the neutrinos have more mass than the others and where that additional mass comes from

I have had a very personal interest in looking at all the various studies and advancements made at the Illinois Fermilab ever since I was allowed to visit the facility as a High Schooler, an experience that forever lent me an interest in particle physics and the study of the “why” behind the universe. I, for one, look forward to seeing what the NOvA Experiment has to teach us.

Oh, and I am also glad that the particle accelerator did not blow up the Earth, as many of my classmates feared.

Told you so.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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