Multi-million dollar Far Detector Site in Ash River employing students to help understand the universe

By KBJR News 1

July 25, 2014 Updated Jul 25, 2014 at 10:46 AM CDT

Ash River, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A neutrino beam passing through the earth from Chicago is headed for a small town near the Canadian Border.

It's destination: The Far Detector Site in Ash River, which is home to the University of Minnesota's NOvA Experiment.

Don't let all that untapped wilderness fool you. Just a few miles off Highway 53 in Ash River, about four stories underground, there are some serious questions being answered by some of the world's leading physicists.

"...leading the world in something that's important," said U of M Twin Cities Physics Professor Marvin Marshak, "trying to understand the universe in which we live, trying to understand how the universe was formed in this big bang, trying to understand how the universe is evolving."

Here, says Marshak, is the site of the university's Far Detector Laboratory, and the NOvA neutrino experiment.

Like underground detector lab in Soudan's mine, Marshak says the $278 million Far Detector Site is acting like a giant catcher's mitt for a neutrino beam that's been shooting the subatomic particles through the earth from an accelerator lab near the Chicago suburbs since 2005.
Both sites sit directly in the beam's path, catching two different types of neutrinos.

"And the reason they go through the earth is because the earth is round," said Marshak, smiling, standing in front of the million plus pound detector. "So if you want to go from this point on the earth to that point on the earth, you gotta go through the earth."

Marshak says 8 countries, 39 universities and laboratories, and close to 700 undergraduate students have been, or are still, involved with everything from the physics and mechanics, to the construction and computations that went into or come from the site.

"You know, we're bringing small pieces of the world here, to Northern Minnesota," said Marshak, "and that in itself is valuable."

19–year–old Physics undergrad Dawson Kimyon was one of those 700 students who was paid for his work on the detector.

"...which included jobs back in the Twin Cities," said Kimyon, "where we had students building these giant panels and then putting them together up here."

Kimyon says the unprecedented collaboration is what keeps him excited for a future in his field, and that he feels honored to work among some of the world's top minds in science.

So, in the end, what is the laboratory's central focus, exactly?

"Basically, we're, we're looking for nuetrinos to spontaneously change, and that tells us a little bit more about the characteristics of neutrinos," said Kimyon, assuring us that it will only enhance our understanding of the laws of the universe.

The Far Detector Site is also a record breaker.

According to officials, the Guinness Book of World Records is in the process of officially recognizing it as the world's largest self–supporting plastic structure.

Billy Wagness