Department of Energy

U.S. and Italy Sign Agreement to Collaborate on Sterile Neutrino Research

June 29, 2018

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Italian Embassy, on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, signed an agreement for collaboration on research with the international Short Baseline Neutrino (SBN) program hosted at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

The SBN program, started in 2015, comprises the development, installation, and operation of three neutrino detectors spread over a distance of 600 meters on the Fermilab site. Italy and its Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) are making major contributions to the SBN program, including the delivery and installation of one of the three detectors. Scientists will use the detectors and a neutrino beam from Fermilab’s particle accelerator complex to measure the properties of neutrino particles with unprecedented precision and search for a new type of particle known as a sterile neutrino.

“Italy is a strong partner of Fermilab and the Department in advancing scientific research,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “Their expertise in the state-of-the-art technologies essential to the SBN program and the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment makes them a key partner in the global effort to solve the mysterious behavior of neutrinos.”

“After a long and productive scientific life at Gran Sasso National Laboratory, the ICARUS detector, refurbished at CERN, is starting a new adventure at Fermilab, a U.S. DOE laboratory where there is a long tradition of collaboration with INFN physicists,” said Fernando Ferroni, president of INFN. “The ICARUS detector, under the leadership of Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia, will help to clarify the issue of the possible existence of sterile neutrinos. If discovered they will be a revolution for the field.”

The SBN program is comprised of three neutrino detectors to be installed along one of Fermilab’s neutrino beamlines, known as the Booster Neutrino Beamline:

  • The Short Baseline Near Detector, located 110 meters from the neutrino beam source: this detector will provide a measurement of the initial composition of the neutrino beam, which at this distance is expected to comprise almost exclusively muon neutrinos.

  • The MicroBooNE detector, located 470 meters from the neutrino source: this detector, about the size of a school bus, will look for the first sign of the transformation of muon neutrinos into electron neutrinos.

  • The ICARUS detector, located 600 meters from the neutrino source: Provided by INFN and first operated at the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy from 2010-2014, the ICARUS detector is the largest of the three detectors of the SBN program. It was refurbished at the European research center CERN before being shipped to Fermilab in 2017.

Once all the detectors have been installed in the Booster Neutrino Beamline, scientists will record data to solve the sterile neutrino puzzle. Utilizing different distances from the neutrino source but the same liquid-argon technology, the three neutrino detectors will be able to distinguish whether their measurements are due to transformations between neutrino types involving a sterile neutrino or are due to other, previously unknown interactions. 

“Together with the expertise of neutrino physicists from around the world, the three detectors of the SBN program will resolve the anomalies observed in previous experiments,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “This program will provide the best measurements for understanding these neutrino interactions.”

The signing of the SBN program collaboration agreement is an addendum to the umbrella agreement on neutrino physics research that the US and Italy signed July 17, 2015.

To learn more about the Short-Baseline Neutrino program at Fermilab, visit sbn.fnal.gov.