UT-Related Neutrino Experiment Recognized by US Department of Energy

A UT-related project exploring the role that neutrinos and dark matter particles can play in the formation of the universe has received a prestigious award from the US Department of Energy.

The federal government has recognized the leadership of the NovA neutrino experiment—which includes UT physicists—for exceptional results in completing a project within budget and on schedule, and gave it the DOE Secretary’s Award of Excellence.

The NOvA (NuMi Off-Axis electron neutrino Appearance) experiment is based at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Illinois. It is the flagship experiment of Fermilab and the largest particle physics experiment in the United States. The project, through the use of particle detectors, examines how the abundant subatomic particles known as neutrinos helped in the evolution of the universe, contributing to its mass as much as stars and planets.

The team has produced a world-leading facility that will keep the United States at the forefront of the physics frontier. The NOvA project included the construction of a massive 14-kiloton neutrino detector in Ash River, Minnesota, and a 300-ton neutrino detector at Fermilab, as well as an upgrade to the neutrino beam at Fermilab.


Athanasios Hatzikoutelis

Athanasios Hatzikoutelis, research assistant professor in the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been part of the leadership team as the manager of NOvA detectors’ control systems. He led a team of Fermilab scientists and engineers in creating a complex system that operates and monitors the detectors. They built 12,000 switches that are used to turn the 900,000 readout channels of the detector on and off. The system continuously monitors the detectors’ operational health. Hatzikoutelis is now studying the possibility of creation of lightweight dark matter along the NOvA neutrino beam. Dark matter is the second most abundant type of matter, after neutrinos, and almost nothing is known about it except that it exists.

Eric Flumerfelt, a UT graduate student in physics, contributed to the data acquisition system of the NOvA detectors. He also performed a small experiment at UT that determined the relationship of energy response of the NOvA detector.

Philip Mason, also a physics graduate student at UT, contributed to the NOvA detector construction and various parts of the NOvA prototype. Currently he is using a monochromator—a device that can control single frequencies of light to make single color beams—to study the response of the NOvA detector to Cherenkov radiation emitted by charged particles.

These studies by UT students can give insight on how to improve the efficiency of particle detection and measurement.

The NOvA collaboration, consisting of 200 scientists and engineers from thirty-five institutions, has applied to the Guinness Book of World Records to have the NOvA detector at Ash River included as the biggest free-standing plastic construction in the world.

The NOvA experiment began collecting data in 2013. The first run of data collection will last six years.

To learn more about the NOvA neutrino experiment, visit the website or Facebook.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)