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The following news release on the first particle tracks observed in a new prototype neutrino detector was issued jointly by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory made major contributions to the design and construction of the ProtoDUNE detector and the ongoing tests of its performance. In particular, “cold electronics” designed and built at Brookhaven Lab were essential to seeing these first tracks and will help to make possible the future neutrino research described in this news release. Brookhaven Lab scientists also contributed significantly to the online data quality monitoring computing system, including live streaming of 2D and 3D visualizations for the first tracks. Read this article for more information about Brookhaven Lab’s contributions, or contact Karen McNulty Walsh, 631-344-8350,, to speak with a Brookhaven Lab scientist.

First Particle Tracks Seen in Prototype for International Neutrino Experiment

CERN and Fermilab announce big step in Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment

cosmic muon particle tracks

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. This image shows one of the first cosmic muon particle tracks recorded by the ProtoDUNE detector at CERN. Three wire planes, each of which is made up of thousands of individual wires, recorded the signal of the muon as it traveled approximately 3.8 meters through liquid argon in the detector, and the images together give scientists a three-dimensional picture of the particle's path. (Credit: DUNE collaboration)

The largest liquid-argon neutrino detector in the world has just recorded its first particle tracks, signaling the start of a new chapter in the story of the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

DUNE’s scientific mission is dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of neutrinos, the most abundant (and most mysterious) matter particles in the universe. Neutrinos are all around us, but we know very little about them. Scientists on the DUNE collaboration think that neutrinos may help answer one of the most pressing questions in physics: why we live in a universe dominated by matter. In other words, why we are here at all.

The enormous ProtoDUNE detector – the size of a three-story house and the shape of a gigantic cube – was built at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, as the first of two prototypes for what will be a much, much larger detector for the DUNE project, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in the United States. When the first DUNE detector modules record data in 2026, they will each be 20 times larger than these prototypes.

It is the first time CERN is investing in infrastructure and detector development for a particle physics project in the United States.

ProtoDUNE test beds at CERN

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. The two ProtoDUNE test beds at CERN are proper particle detectors: They will record particle tracks coming from cosmic rays and from a proton accelerator beam. (Credit: CERN)

The first ProtoDUNE detector took two years to build and eight weeks to fill with 800 tons of liquid argon, which needs to be kept at temperatures below -184 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit). The detector records traces of particles in that argon, from both cosmic rays and a beam created at CERN’s accelerator complex. Now that the first tracks have been seen, scientists will operate the detector over the next several months to test the technology in depth.

“Only two years ago we completed the new building at CERN to house two large-scale prototype detectors that form the building blocks for DUNE,” said Marzio Nessi, head of the Neutrino Platform at CERN. “Now we have the first detector taking beautiful data, and the second detector, which uses a different approach to liquid-argon technology, will be online in a few months.”

The technology of the first ProtoDUNE detector will be the same to be used for the first of the DUNE detector modules in the United States, which will be built a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. More than 1,000 scientists and engineers from 32 countries spanning five continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America – are working on the development, design and construction of the DUNE detectors. The groundbreaking ceremony for the caverns that will house the experiment was held in July of 2017.

“Seeing the first particle tracks is a major success for the entire DUNE collaboration,” said DUNE co-spokesperson Stefan Soldner-Rembold of the University of Manchester, UK. “DUNE is the largest collaboration of scientists working on neutrino research in the world, with the intention of creating a cutting-edge experiment that could change the way we see the universe.”

ProtoDUNE detector images

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. Three views of the ProtoDUNE detector showing various components designed and built by Brookhaven Lab physicists, including sensitive cold electronics at the top of the detector (center image).

When neutrinos enter the detectors and smash into the argon nuclei, they produce charged particles. Those particles leave ionization traces in the liquid, which can be seen by sophisticated tracking systems able to create three-dimensional pictures of otherwise invisible subatomic processes. (An animation of how the DUNE and ProtoDUNE detectors work, along with other videos about DUNE, is available here.)

“CERN is proud of the success of the Neutrino Platform and enthusiastic about being a partner in DUNE, together with Institutions and Universities from its Member States and beyond” said Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of CERN. “These first results from ProtoDUNE are a nice example of what can be achieved when laboratories across the world collaborate. Research with DUNE is complementary to research carried out by the LHC and other experiments at CERN; together they hold great potential to answer some of the outstanding questions in particle physics today.”

DUNE will not only study neutrinos, but their antimatter counterparts as well. Scientists will look for differences in behavior between neutrinos and antineutrinos, which could give us clues as to why the visible universe is dominated by matter. DUNE will also watch for neutrinos produced when a star explodes, which could reveal the formation of neutron stars and black holes, and will investigate whether protons live forever or eventually decay. Observing proton decay would bring us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.

The international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, hosted by Fermilab, will investigate the role neutrinos play in the universe. To test the technologies used by DUNE, scientists are building two large prototype detectors at CERN. Filled with 800 tons of liquid argon, the ProtoDUNE detectors are the largest particle detectors of their kind. The actual DUNE detector modules, which will be assembled 1.5 kilometers underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, will be 20 times bigger than these test beds. More than 1,000 scientists from research institutions in 32 countries are working on DUNE. (Credit: Fermilab)

“DUNE is the future of neutrino research,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “Fermilab is excited to host an international experiment with such vast potential for new discoveries, and to continue our long partnership with CERN, both on the DUNE project and on the Large Hadron Collider.”

To learn more about the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility that will house the experiment, and the PIP-II particle accelerator project at Fermilab that will power the neutrino beam for the experiment, visit

DUNE comprises 175 institutions from 32 countries: Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mexico, Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States. The DUNE interim design report provides a detailed description of the technologies that will be used for the DUNE detectors. More information is at

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world's leading laboratories for particle physics. The Organization is located on the French-Swiss border, with its headquarters in Geneva. Its Member States are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Cyprus, Serbia and Slovenia are Associate Member States in the pre-stage to Membership. India, Lithuania, Pakistan, Turkey and Ukraine are Associate Member States. The European Union, Japan, JINR, the Russian Federation, UNESCO and the United States of America currently have Observer status.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC, a joint partnership between the University of Chicago and the Universities Research Association, Inc. Visit Fermilab’s website at and follow us on Twitter at @Fermilab.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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