Discover Your Island

Island University Professor to Take Part in Unlocking Secrets of the Universe

July 24, 2017

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Trillions of neutrinos pass harmlessly through our bodies each second, but scientists know so little about one of these most abundant particles in the universe. An international effort among scientists aims to change that. Dr. Barbara Szczerbinska, Professor of Physics at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, is part of the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) Collaboration. DUNE scientists will be studying properties of neutrinos and seeking crucial information essential to our understanding of the universe.

 Szczerbinska’s involvement in the project started almost 10 years ago when she established The Center for Theoretical Underground Physics and Related Areas (CETUP*) in South Dakota. Szczerbinska, whose research focus is on dark matter and neutrino physics, greatly supports the scientific goals of DUNE. CETUP* resulted in more than 100 new scientific publications and four conference proceedings. Additionally, Szczerbinska was actively involved in educational outreach by interacting with students and teachers, as well as helping high school students find their love of STEM through the Davis-Bahcall program. She is looking forward to new collaboration opportunities presented by DUNE.

“It is extremely exciting to be part of this mega-scale international collaboration which is looking to answer the underlying universal questions of the 21st century,” said Szczerbinska. “For example, what is the origin of neutrino masses and how have they shaped the evolution of the universe?”

The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will be constructed over the next ten years and will consist of a high-intensity neutrino beam produced at Fermilab (Batavia, IL) and a large neutrino detector installed deep underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Lead, SD).

 Once LBNF has been constructed, Fermilab will send out a beam of neutrinos 800 miles through the earth to an underground detector at the Sanford Lab. This massive, 70,000-ton cryogenic detector, nearly four stories tall and one mile underground, will be filled with liquid argon – a noble gas that is twice as abundant as water vapor. The scientists will then study how the neutrinos interact with the argon atoms. 

“The DUNE experiment will improve our understanding of the neutrino’s properties,” said Szczerbinska. “Neutrinos will help us understand the origins and evolution of the universe and answer the ongoing question – how did we get where we are.”

The relatively new research in neutrino physics goes beyond understanding the origins and evolution of the universe. Understanding neutrinos means unlocking potential future investigations. According to Szczerbinska, neutrinos could affect the development of fast global communication, monitoring nuclear weapons proliferation and the analysis of the chemical composition of the Earth.

“Neutrinos can penetrate ordinary matter extremely easily,” said Szczerbinska. “They could possibly be used for communication in environments where the use of electromagnetic waves does not work very well. For example, in submarines or for interstellar communication.” 

Szczerbinska also explained that researchers have already proven that neutrinos can be used to transmit the information over short distances. Unfortunately, the weak interactions of neutrinos with matter would require a significant improvement in neutrino beam production and detection technologies before neutrino communication finds its practical applications.

Almost 1,000 scientists and engineers from around the world have joined DUNE efforts. Szczerbinska will be representing the Island University among the 160 institutions in 30 countries that will be taking part in this study. The research conducted by these scientists is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, the European Organization for Nuclear Research and additional international partners.

To celebrate, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on July 21, marking the construction of LBNF and the beginning of the DUNE project. For more information about the DUNE project, visit dunescience.org