The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) have signed statements this month expressing interest to collaborate on high-tech international particle physics projects that are planned to be hosted at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
The three agencies indicated plans to work together on the development and production of technical components for PIP-II (Proton Improvement Plan-II), a major DOE particle accelerator project with substantial international contributions. In addition, CNRS and CEA also plan to collaborate on the construction of the Fermilab-hosted Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), an international flagship science project that will unlock the mysteries of neutrinos — subatomic particles that travel close to the speed of light and have almost no mass.
The construction of a 176-meter-long superconducting particle accelerator is the centerpiece of the PIP-II project. The new accelerator upgrade will become the heart of the Fermilab accelerator complex and provide the proton beam to power a broad program of accelerator-based particle physics research for many decades to come. In particular, PIP-II will enable the world’s most powerful high-energy neutrino beam to power DUNE. The experiment requires enormous quantities of neutrinos to discover the role these particles played in the formation of the early universe. The first delivery of particle beams to DUNE is scheduled for 2026.
“The collaboration on PIP-II and DUNE is a win-win situation for France and the U.S. Department of Energy,” said DOE Undersecretary for Science Paul Dabbar. “Scientists in France and the United States have a wealth of experience building components for superconducting particle accelerators and are contributing substantially to developing key technologies for DUNE. France’s expression of interest brings into the fold for the projects a partnership that has already seen great interest and contributions from across the globe.”
Two French institutions — the departments of the Institute of Research into the Fundamental Laws of the Universe (Irfu), part of the French Atomic Energy Commission, and the CNRS IN2P3 laboratories: Institute of Nuclear Physics (IPN) and Linear Accelerator Laboratory (LAL) — are expected to build components for PIP-II. They both have extensive experience in the development of superconducting radio-frequency acceleration, which is the enabling technology for PIP-II, and are contributors to two major superconducting particle accelerator projects in Europe: the X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) and the European Spallation Source (ESS).
“For IN2P3, the DUNE experiment is of major scientific interest for the next decade, and this interest naturally extends to the PIP-II project, which actually aligns perfectly well with our experience on superconducting linac technologies,” said IN2P3 Director Reynald Pain. “Our scientific and technical teams are very excited to start this collaboration.”
At the heart of the PIP-II project is the construction of an 800-million-electronvolt superconducting linear accelerator. The new accelerator will feature acceleration cavities made of niobium and double the beam energy of its predecessor. That boost will enable the Fermilab accelerator complex to achieve megawatt-scale proton beam power.
“Irfu physicists are strongly involved in neutrino physics,” said Vincent Berger, Director of Fundamental Research at the CEA. “In this field, the DUNE experiment is particularly promising. In that context, contributing to the PIP-II project would be very interesting for our accelerator teams, who have strong experience in superconducting linacs. Our first discussions with Fermilab staff have been very stimulating.”
In addition to France, other international partners are making significant contributions to PIP-II: India, the United Kingdom and Italy. DOE’s Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley National laboratories are also contributing key components to the project.
“France brings world-leading expertise and capabilities to the PIP-II project,” said PIP-II Project Director Lia Merminga. “It is a tremendous opportunity and honor to work with them and apply their demonstrated excellence to our project.”
French scientists also plan to contribute to building the DUNE detector, a massive stadium-sized neutrino detector that will be located 1.5 kilometers underground at Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. Construction of prototype detectors are currently under way at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the European particle physics laboratory located near the French-Swiss border. These prototypes include key contributions from French institutions in developing the dual-phase technology for one of the two ProtoDUNE detectors.
“French scientists were among the founders of the DUNE experiment,” said Ed Blucher, DUNE collaboration co-spokesperson and professor at the University of Chicago. “Their enormous experience in detector and electronics development will be crucial to successful construction of the DUNE detectors.”