Now Sousa is getting ready for Fermilab’s new Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, or DUNE. A distant detector for this experiment is being built 800 miles away from Fermilab in a former gold mine about a mile underground in South Dakota. DUNE represents the largest high-energy physics experiment ever created in the United States and includes more than 1,100 scientists from 32 countries.
“Since DUNE is much farther away from the beam, the matter effects are large enough that we should be able to disambiguate the effects from C-P violation. We can tell if it’s really the new physics we’re looking for,” Sousa said.
This detector, actually a group of four, is massive and will hold 68,000 tons of liquid argon kept at a brisk -299 degrees Fahrenheit. Its claim to fame: it will have the highest spatial resolution of any neutrino detector, which means scientists can study them with even more precision.
Sousa is working on new circuit boards the size of tablet computers to record neutrinos in the new detectors. Two of the detectors will use as many as 3,000 of these circuit boards to record the neutrinos. But first Sousa and his colleagues will have to make sure the electronics can operate in subfreezing temperatures. He is testing electronics in his UC lab using liquid nitrogen as a stand-in for argon.
The new electronics are another example of how high-energy physics has spurred technology such as the creation of the world wide web. Fermilab’s research has contributed to medical insights into proton therapy and diagnostic equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography, or PET scans.
“This microchip was created specifically for the DUNE experiment,” Sousa said, holding up the circuit board. “I think this is where these experiments really contribute to society. We are answering questions about the universe. At the same time, we’re developing new, state-of-the-art electronics that eventually can trickle down to the consumer level.
“In that way, we are an engine of innovation.”