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Q) This project is a secret weapon project of Fermi Lab and India’s Atomic Energy agency. Why don’t they tell the truth? The powerful neutrino beams produced at Fermi Lab need to be received here in India. The Pottipuram site is 180 degrees away on same longitude as the lab in Chicago, USA. Isn’t that so?

A) Theni coordinates are 10.01 degree north; 77.47 degree east. Chicago is at 41.49 degree north and 88.15 degree west. So the difference is 126.5 degree not 180 degrees. One only needs high school geography knowledge to compute this (can be calculated at https://bit.ly/3wmS2Ew).

Without even checking this, why these bogus activists are spreading deliberate lie? The politician who echoed this had not bothered to verify this information before endorsing it.

Now, let’s see what kind of a monster Fermi Lab is. The lab, just like many other basic research facilities across the world, is a multinational effort in which scientists from many countries collaborate and work. The neutrino experiment being conducted at Fermi Lab is called Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE),

As part of this project,  neutrinos will be produced at the Fermi Lab’s particle accelerator at Batavia, Illinois. These neutrino beams will be directed at Sanford Underground Research  Facility some 1,300 kilometers away in the state of South Dakota. These beams will be manufactured in the US and received at another facility in the US. If there is any danger from these neutrinos, it will be restricted to the US.No way any part of India, let alone Theni is in the direction of the Fermi lab experimental neutrino beam.

A similar neutrino experiment was conducted between 2006 and 2012 in which neutrinos were produced at CERN in Geneva and received at Gran Sasso in Italy. This Gran Sasso experiment commenced  after our neutrino project was proposed and the experiment is already completed. Fermi Lab experiment is the next stage to this.

In another project, 19 Chinese universities and 16 US universities have been collaborating to do research at the Daya Bay reactor in China since 2011. The Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment is a China-based multinational particle physics project studying neutrinos. Researchers from China, Chile, the United States, Taiwan (Republic of China), Russia, and the Czech Republic are part of this project. The project commenced in 2015 and it has completed its first round of experimentation in 2020. China is mulling over a much larger follow-up Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory (JUNO) in Kaiping. None of these projects have any link with the efforts proposed at the India Based Neutrino observatory at Theni.

The detector  at Theni is for identifying atmospheric neutrinos; these are not good for neutrino beam experiments

. Next, there is no straight line on the earth’s curvature connecting Sanford facility and Theni. The neutrino beam from Fermi lab is not in the direction of India at all. Just spread the map on a flat surface and draw a line from Theni and you will see for yourself how false this is. If you draw a line from Fermi Lab to the center of the earth and let it come out of the other side, even then it won’t pass through Tamil Nadu.

Yet, those who see a conspiracy involving Fermi Lab and India say that Theni Indian Neutrino Observatory is located directly opposite Fermi Lab. Why this rumour is being spread is not clear.

Q) Fermi Lab research is for manufacturing weapons.

A) If the project is to manufacture weapons, will the US collaborate with India, Iran, China, Russia and Pakistan in the DUNE project? Just see that even Iran, the sworn enemy of the US, is a partner in the project. Researchers from some 30 countries are sending “artificial neutrinos” from one location in the US to another in USA. The knowledge that is gathered from this research will be available for Iran, too. We must note here that the US has been very particular about capping and rolling back Iran’s nuclear program so it doesn’t make bombs.If indeed the Fermi lab project is a secret weapons research, then would USA invite Iran’s participation? Would India and Pakistan take part in the same project to develop weapons? 

Indian scientists are also involved in this; but the objective of this project is vary different from INO.The research questions addressed by both are very different.Yet these bogus anti-scientific activists have no qualms in spreading the rumour that India and USA are collaborating and indulging in weapons research at Fermi Lab neutrino experiment.  

Just like it is irrational to say vaccines will kill, it is irrational to say neutrino beams are dangerous.

If there is any danger to the environment, the US will likely ensure the damage is diverted to a third world country. But in the Fermi Lab project, the accelerated neutrinos are produced inside the US and received in the US. And why would such experiments take place in Europe, China and Japan?

So what research is happening in these projects? Let’s say you set afloat a log of wood on a river. By measuring how long it takes for the log to reach a point one kilometer away will tell us how fast the river water is moving. Similarly, by measuring the properties of the neutrino at the source and its destination several hundreds of kilometers away, scientists can know things that were so far unknown about neutrinos. The Indian project is to measure the properties of atmospheric neutrinos. The aims of the two projects are different.

 Q) Why do we need a 50,000 tonne magnet made of iron? Can it not be smaller?

The neutrino detector has iron sheets weighing 5,000 tons. Between two sheets,  detectors are located. The iron atoms in the detector will amount to a number equal to 6 followed by 29 zeros.

 Even if this detector is located inside the mountain, all the cosmic rays cannot be filtered out. Some 300 signals of cosmic rays will be detected at any time in the detector. Since neutrinos are weakly acting with other particles, it is hard to detect them. It is estimated that even if crores of neutrinos fall on the detector every second, only some 10 of them will interact with the iron atoms. These interactions will have to be separated from those triggered by cosmic rays. Scientists will try to separate out the interactions with cosmic rays from neutrino interactions and gather data. Typically, only 7 interactions can be confirmed to be that from  neutrinos every two days.

 A bigger detector will help to speed up the research but it will be hard to locate a very big magnet accurately. Research accuracy will be in trouble. But at the same time, too small a detector will prolong the experiment. So an optimum size has to be designed.

 It is a ‘blue sky’ research project, so there may not be any direct employment opportunities. We cannot say for sure how such basic research projects provide direct benefits except in helping to expand scientific knowledge. 

Neutrinos are fundamental particles. So research into neutrinos is fundamental particle research. Today’s electronic goods are a direct outcome of such research conducted many decades ago on electrons. For instance, positron is a fundamental particle. PET scan is done using that particle.

It is expected that using neutrinos will help to facilitate better telecommunications and imaging technologies in the future.However for devising technology we must first know the science; this project is part of the research to understand this elusive particle.

Some 66 acres of fallow (poromboke) land have been allocated to the project by the state government. No private property has been taken over. Water needs are very limited.  No trees have to be felled, too. Thus this project does not evict anyone from their land nor have adverse impact on the environment.

 Yet false and fake rumours are being spread by certain groups. It is not clear what axe does these bogus activists have to grind? Why are they hell-bent on wanting to stop a world class science facility from being set- up in Tamil Nadu, by making fake and false stories? One only hopes the people of Tamil Nadu and its leaders would be guided by the light of rationalism lit by Periyar, Singaravelar and others and not persuaded by fake news. 

TV Venkateswaran is a scientist at Vigyan Prasar, Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi

 

 

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