August 17, 2009

Neutrino research project back on track

A project to fire neutrinos through the earth from Illinois to northern Minnesota is back on track because of U.S. stimulus funds, officials say.

The Fermilab project, called Nova, has been suspended due to funding problems, but now $40 million is going to build a neutrino detector in Minnesota and another $103 million is heading to Fermilab for other aspects of the project, including a move to boost the power of the neutrino beam, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Neutrinos are elementary particles that can pass through ordinary matter.

In the project, physicists accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light and then smash them at Fermilab's Batavia, Ill., facility, creating a spray of new particles that decay into neutrinos. The neutrinos are then focused into a beam and shot through the earth to a detector at the bottom of a deep mine shaft in Soudan, Minn.

The oscillation of the neutrinos into different forms along the way can help physicists solve the basic universal riddle of why there is more matter than anti-matter, the newspaper reported.

What we're after is how neutrinos change into one another, Fermilab director Pier Oddone said. Will they explain why we're made out of matter and not anti-matter?