New Delhi: India now plans to build a small neutrino detector in Tamil Nadu as a precursor to the bigger underground one that’s already in the works for the state, potentially driving up demand for steel.
The smaller version proposed in Madurai is to kick-start the research aims of the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), an underground detector of cosmic particles known as neutrinos, people associated with the projects said.
The smaller detector will also help provide experience to Indian industry that will have to supply nearly 50,000 tonnes of specialized steel for the bigger one—the largest such order for a single project. The steel estimate was made by the INO consortium that consists of the atomic energy department and a plethora of Indian universities.
The INO “will be one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world and so there will be a smaller detector at Madurai that will be a test model for the bigger, underground one”, said R.K. Sinha, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.
India already has a much smaller neutrino detector at the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata, a department of atomic energy research unit, and the construction of the INO will make the country a leading international hub for neutrino research.
“While the land clearances are done, we are yet to begin practical construction such as tendering for the steel, etc.,” said Naba Mondal, spokesperson, INO. “But the smaller detector will help research students already signed up for the programme.”
The detectors will together require about 50,000 tonnes of steel and the proposed one at Madurai will use only some of it and much less equipment than the main detector.
“We expect much of the demand to be supplied bv the Steel Authority of India Ltd, though such a big order cannot be executed by just one supplier,” Sinha said. He added that a formal tendering process would soon be announced.
The INO is expected to cost at least Rs.900 crore and will be built underground and connected to the outside world by a 2km tunnel. It will be funded by the government’s department of atomic energy, the department of science and technology and the University Grants Commission.
The observatory ran into opposition from environmentalists as it was initially proposed to be set up in Mudumalai, close to a tiger reserve, in Tamil Nadu. The detector now has been shifted to Pottipuram in the Bodi West hills of Theni district in the state.
As part of the project, about 150 layers of glass-based detectors known as Resistive Plate Chambers, or RPCs, which will be sandwiched between layers of iron constituting the 50-kiloton, 1.3 Tesla magnet.
Charged particles such as muons produced during the rare interactions of neutrinos with the iron will be detected by the RPCs and tracked in space and time to identify their momentum and charge. The properties of the neutrinos will be inferred from these tracks.
Globally, the study of neutrinos is at the forefront of basic science research in particle physics. These particles, discovered in 1956, are neutral (have no electric charge) with a mass that is almost zero. Though research into these tiny particles have resulted in two Nobel Prizes, scientists still do not know much about them.
Scientists say neutrinos hold vital clues to questions such as the age of the universe and the underlying structure of matter. They travel great distances—sometimes over billions of light years—and being electrically neutral, hardly react with anything. Several experiments are under way globally to understand the fundamental particles of matter, the most high profile of these being the underground Large Hadron Collider at the France-Switzerland border near Geneva, Switzerland. India, which has contributed to the project, announced many new proposals to boost particle research in its 11th Plan (2007-12).