Experiment Profiles Archive



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NAME: Main Injector Experiment for v-A, or MINERvA

ORIGIN OF THE NAME: The Main Injector is the name of the link in the Fermilab accelerator chain that takes protons and accelerates them before “injecting” them in a beamline to hit a target. Nuclear physics uses the term “v-A” as shorthand for atomic number studies.


  • MINERvA opens a new window for seeing how matter evolved from simple particles to more complex composites of particles, which eventually created everything you see.
  • Data from MINERvA provides crucial first steps so that current and future neutrino experiments can answer the following questions:
    • Were neutrinos key to the evolution of the galaxy by allowing matter to dominate antimatter, the tipping point for creating all visible matter including planets and people?
    • How much do neutrinos weigh and thus how much of the universe’s mass comes from neutrinos.
    • Do neutrinos and antineutrinos weigh different amounts, as posited by other experiments? If they do, it would signal a breakdown in Einstein’s special relativity theory, which states that the speed of light and laws of physics remain the same regardless of a particle’s speed or rotation.

WHY IS THIS EXPERIMENT NEEDED NOW? MINERvA provides critical missing information in the 1 to 10 GeV energy range for future neutrino experiments about the probability of neutrinos interacting with nuclei and how those interactions vary depending on the type of nuclei. This will help complete the picture of neutrinos and allow these current and future experiments to interpret their data more clearly. MINERvA complements ongoing efforts at other laboratories studying the probability of electrons interacting with nuclei.

WHAT IS IT LOOKING FOR? Will study how low-energy neutrinos interact with particles in the nucleus of a variety of material: carbon, iron, lead, water and helium.

FUNDED BY: DOE, NSF and the University of Rochester

U.S. COLLABORATING INSTITUTIONS: 14 universities and one national lab

NON-US COLLABORATING INSTITUTIONS: Five universities (Mexico, Peru, Chile and Greece) and two national labs (Brazil and Russia).

HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO FERMILAB’S STRATEGIC PLAN? MINERvA’s data will help MINOS, NOvA and LBNE interpret their data. By offering a more detailed explanation of how neutrinos act in a detector, these experiments can more clearly measure the changes of neutrino types across long distances.

STATUS: Started taking data March 2010.

LIFESPAN OF EXPERIMENT: Five years with a one-year break during the NuMI beam upgrade


HOW DOES IT WORK? The MINERvA detector sits upstream from the MINOS near detector and uses the NuMI beam that shoots to the MINOS far detector and future NOvA detector, both in Minnesota. MINERvA’s detector, which has five layers of target materials where neutrinos interact. This sends neutrinos and secondary particles scattering off the target nuclei into other layers of the detector. This onion-like structure of layers measures the particles produced when nuclei break apart.


  • MINERvA saved more than $10 million in design and construction money by using recycled components from NuTeV, the MINOS near detector and design work from MINOS, DZero, CDF and CMS.
  • Neutrinos pass through the MINERvA detector every 2.2 seconds and after the NuMI beam upgrade for NOvA will pass through every 1.3 seconds.
  • A few trillion neutrinos pass through the detector between every 1.3 to 2.2 seconds, but only a few of these neutrinos creates a detectable signal.
  • The detector will collect about 16 million neutrino events in the inner three-ton volume throughout its lifetime.
  • About 70 miles of fiber optic cable run through the detector’s scintillating strips.
  • Annual MINERvA decathlons pit collaborators against each other performing five sports and giving five lectures to undergraduate students.
  • South and North American collaborators taught each other how to play their versions of football.
  • The first neutrino event was found by a young scientist and his mother sitting at a kitchen table reviewing e-mails of the first real-time data.
  • T-shirts highlight collaboration milestones, including the detector completion which earned a shirt that reads “I can’t believe we made the whole thing.”

NUMBER OF COLLABORATORS: About 80 nuclear and particle physicists from 21 institutions


  • First of its kind in the world to use a high-intensity beam to study neutrino reactions with nuclei of five different target materials, creating the first side-by-side comparison of interactions.
  • Unlike traditional neutrino detectors that rely on large detectors to increase the probability of seeing rare neutrino interactions, MINERvA and T2K’s near detector in Japan use the more compact design of a collider detector. This is made possible for MINERvA because of its position in the NuMI beam, which provides an unprecedented number of neutrino interactions.
  • Collaborators from competing neutrino oscillation experiments and nuclear physics partner on MINERvA.