A new facility to serve the neutrino community

Following the recommendations of the European Strategy document, CERN is setting up a programme to fulfill the needs of neutrino detector R&D. In the framework of this programme, a new neutrino platform will be brought to light in the North Area in 2016 and the ICARUS neutrino detector is heading to CERN this week to be refurbished and upgraded.


The first ICARUS TPC arrived at CERN on 1 December and is now being housed in a CERN clean room. 

CERN’s vocation is to provide particle physicists with state-of-the-art technical facilities and the new CERN neutrino platform will be no exception. “The new platform will allow the large community of neutrino experts to develop their R&D programmes here at CERN, in preparation for their participation in the large neutrino experiments that will be carried out world-wide,” explains Sergio Bertolucci, CERN’s Director of Research and Computing. “CERN’s goal is to assist and foster collaboration among the various institutions in Europe, independent of which experimental solutions are eventually adopted by other labs.”

Neutrinos are highly elusive particles that are very difficult to detect and study. Over recent years, several experiments have indicated the existence of anomalies that are not easily explained in the framework of existing theories. Models beyond the Standard Model (SM) have been developed to explain these results, some of which involve one or more additional neutrinos that do not interact in the same way as the three SM neutrinos. Further studies and more precise experiments are needed to better clarify the situation.

Rendering of the EHN1 extension.

The new CERN facility will include a 70-metre extension of the EHN1 experimental hall, which will be able to host the experimental apparatuses. “We plan to operate the first charged beams in 2017 after all the civil engineering and infrastructure work needed to upgrade the experimental hall has been completed,” says Marzio Nessi, CERN Neutrino Programme project leader.  “In 2014, CERN approved two projects to be developed in the framework of the neutrino programme: the refurbishment of the ICARUS T600 detector and R&D for the LAGUNA detector.”

The second ICARUS TPC left the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy on Tuesday 9 December and is expected at CERN before Christmas. (Image credit: INFN)

Weighing 760 tonnes, ICARUS T600 is the world’s largest liquid argon neutrino detector. It was operated by an international collaboration in the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy from 2009 to 2012. “ICARUS is the current 'state-of-the-art' in the use of liquid argon technology for time projection chambers, says Carlo Rubbia, who initiated the ICARUS idea and has been the spokesman of the experiment since 1977. It has been very successful, the result of 25 years of research and development funded by INFN. One of the most significant features of this technology is the highly purified liquid argon in the detector, which permits impressive results in terms of free electron lifetime, measured in parts per trillion of oxygen-equivalent contamination. This new technology has opened the way to a new, 'bubble chamber-like' visual detector operating continuously at atmospheric pressure and recording calorimetric information precisely.” The detector’s time projection chambers (TPC) will now be overhauled at CERN in preparation for possible new uses in future experiments. The first chamber arrived at CERN on 1 December, while the second one left the Gran Sasso Laboratory Tuesday this week and should arrive at CERN before the end-of-year break.  

The new neutrino platform will also contribute to all logistics aspects related to the R&D programmes, which will be approved by CERN committees and management. “The CERN platform will also support neutrino experiments in the field of cryogenics, magnet technology, integration and assembly techniques, and - in general - in all fields where CERN has a proven global expertise,” concludes Bertolucci. “However, for the time being, CERN is not committing to any neutrino beam being built here. Instead, we remain open to discussions in view of a common roadmap to be agreed with the other laboratories.”

by Antonella Del Rosso