Activity corner: Make your own NOvA detector at home!

You can build something that works exactly like this detector. Read the easy-to-follow steps to construct your own!

Hey kids! Do you love detecting neutrinos? Have you ever gazed longingly at Fermilab’s amazing NOvA detector and thought about how much fun it would be to build your own? Sure, the real NOvA detector took years to construct, cost millions of dollars and was designed by some of the brightest minds in particle physics. But don’t let that get you down! If you want to build your own NOvA particle detector at home, here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step one: Ask your parents if you can use the house.

The real NOvA detector is huge – 50 feet high by 50 feet wide by 200 feet long. You won’t be able to build anything that large, but if mom and/or dad are OK with it, you already have something you can use: your house! You’ll need to take all the furniture out of the house and strip the floors – building a neutrino detector can get messy, and you won’t want to spill anything on the carpet.

Step two: Gather some basic ingredients.

You’ll need a few things to build your own NOvA detector, so start saving your allowance! You’ll need a few miles of fiber optic cable, some instruments to read out fiber optic signals, a few hundred feet of extruded PVC, some black paint and a few thousand gallons of liquid scintillator, depending on the size of your home. (Handy tip: Use baby oil to make your liquid scintillator! Ask your science teacher how!)

Step three: Encase your house in plastic.

Here’s where you take all that PVC and cover your house in it. Use glue to keep it all together, and make sure it’s air-tight. Light interferes with neutrino signals, so be sure to paint the whole thing black. Don’t forget to leave a tiny hole in the roof! You’re going to need that later!

Step four: Fill the detector.

Remember that tiny hole you left in the roof? Here’s where it comes in handy. Fill up your house with liquid scintillator, right up to the top. (Handy tip: use a funnel to make pouring easier!) When you’re done, slowly thread the fiber optic cables through that little hole and connect them to the instruments. Get some of your neighbors to help!

Step five: Detect ghostly particles!

Now you’re ready to detect neutrinos! If you think nothing can get in to your new detector, think again. Neutrinos can! And now all you need to do is wait for them to start interacting and producing charged particles that you can detect. This might take a while, since you don’t have a powerful particle accelerator creating a neutrino beam for you, but just be patient! Soon you’ll have your own particle tracks to show all your friends. Science is fun!