UK funding fundamental science

21 November 2019

The University of Oxford has received a grant of £1.2m to provide essential contributions to the DUNE experiment. This is part of the latest UK multi-million pound investment in the DUNE global science project that brings together the scientific communities of the UK and 31 countries from Asia, Europe and the Americas to build the world’s most advanced neutrino observatory. The DUNE project has the potential to lead to profound changes in our understanding of the universe.

DUNE (the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment) is a flagship international experiment hosted by the United States Department of Energy’s Fermilab, which will be designed and operated by a collaboration of more than 1,000 physicists across 32 countries. Professor Stefan Söldner-Rembold of the University of Manchester, who leads the international DUNE collaboration as one of its spokespersons, commented, ‘DUNE has the unique potential to answer fundamental questions that overlap particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.’

National and international collaboration

The investment from UK Research and Innovations’ Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is a four-year construction grant to 13 educational institutions and to STFC’s Rutherford Appleton and Daresbury Laboratories. This grant, of £30m, represents the first of two stages to support the DUNE construction project in the UK which will run until 2026 and represent a total investment of £45m.

Various elements of the experiment are under construction across the world, with the UK taking a major role in contributing essential expertise and components to the experiment and facility. UK scientists and engineers will design and produce the principle detector components at the core of the DUNE detector, which will comprise four large tanks each containing 17,000 tonnes of liquid argon. The UK groups are also developing a state-of-the art, high speed data acquisition system to record the signals from the detector, together with the sophisticated software needed to interpret the data and provide the answers to the scientific questions.

Support for fundamental science

Professor Alfons Weber from the University of Oxford, who is leading the UK team of around 100 students, physicists, technicians and engineers remarks that, ‘DUNE will be an exciting experiment and it is fantastic to see how the UK is supporting fundamental science. This announcement has allowed us to take a lead in many aspects of the experiment as the biggest contributor outside the USA. We have a significant task ahead of us in the coming years and we are looking forward to delivering our contributions.’

The grant is funding physicists and engineers to develop a system that will record up to 5 PByte a year; Professor Giles Barr, also from the Physics Department at Oxford is leading the development for the data acquisition system: ‘We are working with our partners in universities around the world and UK industry to build a high-speed readout and processing system. It not only has to find the signals of the interesting interactions from the liquid argon but also be able to work for more than a decade with high reliability. This is an unprecedented challenge and has not been achieved before.’

Advancing our understanding

The DUNE project aims to advance our understanding of the origin and structure of the universe. It will study the behaviour of particles called neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos. This could provide insight as to why we live in a matter-dominated universe while anti-matter has largely disappeared. DUNE will also watch for supernova neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which will allow the scientists to observe the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.

Find out more about DUNE.