Tuesday, April 21, 2015
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Mu2e breaks ground on experiment seeking new physics

Fermilab's Mu2e groundbreaking ceremony took place on Saturday, April 18. From left: Alan Stone (DOE Office of High Energy Physics), Nigel Lockyer (Fermilab director), Jim Siegrist (DOE Office of High Energy Physics director), Ron Ray (Mu2e project manager), Paul Philp (Mu2e federal project director at the Fermi Site Office), Jim Miller (Mu2e co-spokesperson), Doug Glenzinski (Mu2e co-spokesperson), Martha Michels (Fermilab ESH&Q head), Mike Shrader (Middough architecture firm), Julie Whitmore (Mu2e deputy project manager), Jason Whittaker (Whittaker Construction), Tom Lackowski (FESS). Photo: Reidar Hahn

This weekend, members of the Mu2e collaboration dug their shovels into the ground of Fermilab's Muon Campus for the experiment that will search for the direct conversion of a muon into an electron in the hunt for new physics.

For decades, the Standard Model has stood as the best explanation of the subatomic world, describing the properties of the basic building blocks of matter and the forces that govern them. However, challenges remain, including that of unifying gravity with the other fundamental forces or explaining the matter-antimatter asymmetry that allows our universe to exist. Physicists have since developed new models, and detecting the direct conversion of a muon to an electron would provide evidence for many of these alternative theories.

"There's a real possibility that we'll see a signal because so many theories beyond the Standard Model naturally allow muon-to-electron conversion," said Jim Miller, a co-spokesperson for Mu2e. "It'll also be exciting if we don't see anything, since it will greatly constrain the parameters of these models."

Muons and electrons are two different flavors in the charged-lepton family. Muons are 200 times more massive than electrons and decay quickly into lighter particles, while electrons are stable and live forever. Most of the time, a muon decays into an electron and two neutrinos, but physicists have reason to believe that once in a blue moon, muons will convert directly into an electron without releasing any neutrinos. This is physics beyond the Standard Model.

Under the Standard Model, the muon-to-electron direct conversion happens too rarely to ever observe. In more sophisticated models, however, this occurs just frequently enough for an extremely sensitive machine to detect.

The Mu2e detector, when complete, will be the instrument to do this. The 92-foot-long apparatus will have three sections, each with its own superconducting magnet. Its unique S-shape was designed to capture as many slow muons as possible with an aluminum target. The direct conversion of a muon to an electron in an aluminum nucleus would release exactly 105 million electronvolts of energy, which means that if it occurs, the signal in the detector will be unmistakable. Scientists expect Mu2e to be 10,000 times more sensitive than previous attempts to see this process.

Construction will now begin on a new experimental hall for Mu2e. This hall will eventually house the detector and the infrastructure needed to conduct the experiment, such as the cryogenic systems to cool the superconducting magnets and the power systems to keep the machine running.

"What's nice about the groundbreaking is that it becomes a real thing. It's a long haul, but we'll get there eventually, and this is a start," said Julie Whitmore, deputy project manager for Mu2e.

The detector hall will be complete in late 2016. The experiment, funded mainly by the Department of Energy Office of Science, is expected to begin in 2020 and run for three years until peak sensitivity is reached.

"This is a project that will be moving along for many years. It won't just be one shot," said Stefano Miscetti, the leader of the Italian INFN group, Mu2e's largest international collaborator. "If we observe something, we will want to measure it better. If we don't, we will want to increase the sensitivity."

Physicists around the world are working to extend the frontiers of the Standard Model. One hundred seventy-eight people from 31 institutions are coming together for Mu2e to make a significant impact on this venture.

"We're sensitive to the same new physics that scientists are searching for at the Large Hadron Collider, we just look for it in a complementary way," said Ron Ray, Mu2e project manager. "Even if the LHC doesn't see new physics, we could see new physics here."

Diana Kwon

See a two-minute video on the ceremony

In the News

Synopsis: No hint of exotic Higgs particles

From Physics, April 15, 2015

In 2012, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva discovered a Higgs boson that was consistent with the standard model of particle physics. However, some theories propose that other Higgs-like particles with different properties may exist alongside the standard model Higgs. A new analysis of data from Fermilab's Tevatron outside of Chicago sets limits on some of these "exotic Higgs" particles.

Read more

From the Deputy Director

Neutrinos are everywhere

Joe Lykken

Neutrinos are indeed everywhere, but during the past week at Fermilab we have been up to our eyeballs in neutrino physicists as well.

The first official gathering of the DUNE collaboration brought a healthy fraction of the 769 DUNE physicists to Fermilab, representing 147 universities and labs from around the globe. For three jam-packed days the collaboration discussed both neutrino science and plans for moving ahead quickly with their proposed long-baseline experiment. The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment features more than 40 kilotons of liquid-argon detectors almost a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, a fine-grained near detector at Fermilab and a tunable megawatt-class wide-band neutrino beam made possible by the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and the planned PIP-II accelerator upgrade. The DUNE collaboration is focused on getting the first detector module underground and taking data as soon as possible.

Two auxiliary meetings provided a boost to the ambitions of the DUNE physicists. The first was a two-day workshop on risk management for both the DUNE and LBNF projects, a significant step towards preparing for the DOE critical-decision review process. The second was a meeting of the newly formed Long Baseline Neutrino Committee, a cadre of top physicists from around the world chaired by David MacFarlane of SLAC. The LBNC will review the scientific, technical and managerial preparations of the neutrino program, providing feedback of inestimable value to both the DUNE collaborators and Fermilab management.

On the weekend Fermilab hosted a meeting of the leadership of the three liquid-argon based experiments that constitute the new short-baseline neutrino program SBN. These experiments are MicroBooNE, which is nearly ready for data taking, ICARUS, currently being refurbished at CERN, and the recently renamed SBND near detector. The collaborations are launching joint efforts to maximize the physics reach of the SBN program and reported the good news that six U.S. groups have recently applied to join ICARUS.

Also on the weekend, Fermilab hosted a broader gathering of the international neutrino community under the auspices of ApPIC, the Astroparticle Physics International Committee chaired by Michel Spiro, and the ICFA Neutrino Panel chaired by Ken Long. Last but not least, yesterday and today the lab welcomed the 17 funding agency representatives of ApPEC, the Astroparticle Physics European Consortium. This meeting, steered by Stavros Katsanevas and Frank Linde, focused on preparations for large neutrino infrastructures proposed or planned around the world.

The mood pervading this week of neutrino extravaganza is most cogently summarized by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia: "We're doing great," he said.

Photos of the Day


Beautiful bloodroot grows in Big Woods. Photo: Georgia Schwender, OC
Bloodroot is so named because when you break open the root, red (toxic) sap comes out. Photo: Sue Quarto, FESS

In memoriam: Brad Kobiella

Brad Kobiella

Fermilab retiree Brad Kobiella passed away on April 14. Kobiella maintained all the residential buildings in the Fermilab Village from 1976 until he retired in 1999. After a few years, he returned to work for the Housing Office as an on-call employee until 2013.

A visitation for Kobiella will take place on Friday, April 24, from 4-7 p.m. at Ottawa Funeral Home. The funeral will take place on Saturday, April 25, at 10 a.m.

In the News

Japan accelerator poised to go fully operational

From Science, April 17, 2015

Japan's premier particle accelerator will soon be back in business after a long shutdown that frustrated entire physics communities.

Read more (subscription required)