Innovation at Fermilab: Liquid Argon Test Facility

From left: Fermilab Deputy Director Young-Kee Kim; Gina Rameika, PPD; Kevin Bomstad and Jason Whittaker, Whittaker Construction and Excavation; Dixon Bogert, Fermilab; Mike Weis, DOE; Fermilab Director Pier Oddone; Erik Gottschalk, PPD. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Despite the biting cold and snow, scientists and Fermilab personnel gathered outside to break ground for Fermilab’s new Liquid Argon Test Facility. The facility, expected to be completed spring 2013, will house liquid-argon based experiments.

Scientists have speculated since the 1980s that liquid argon could be used as a crash pad for high-energy neutrinos and have subsequently constructed several liquid-argon neutrino detectors; the largest and most prominent being ICARUS, the Imaging Cosmic And Rare Underground Signals, detector in Italy. The design of the new MicroBooNE experiment improves upon technology developed for ICARUS and will allow scientists to observe neutrinos with greater precision and resolution.

Regina Rameika is the project manager for the construction of the MicroBooNE detector.

“The MicroBooNE detector that will first use this facility is smaller than ICARUS, but incorporates some advanced designs,” Rameika said.

MicroBooNE will use liquid argon as a target for neutrinos generated in the Booster neutrino beam. When the neutrinos hit the argon nuclei, they generate showers of charged particles that then drift to an electrical detector. The purer the argon, the further the particles are able to drift. MicroBooNE will use ultrapure argon to maximize the distance these particles drift. This model is more efficient, cost effective, and has the potential to be scaled-up to a much larger size than previous detectors.

The MicroBooNE experiment will provide another layer of data for using the Booster neutrino beam. Not only will scientists be able to observe particles with the existing MiniBooNE detector, but now they will be able to measure neutrinos from the Booster neutrino beam with a second, higher-resolution detector.

“The MicroBooNE experiment will be focused on understanding some anomalies observed in the data from the MiniBooNE experiment,” Rameika said. This project will also provide valuable insight into different designs for liquid-argon detectors that could be located in the LArTF once MicroBooNE is complete.

Sarah Charley