High-energy physics gets a $235 mn leg-up in India

High-energy physics in India is set for a Rs.1,500 crore ($235 million) boost in the shape of a laboratory for studying neutrinos – subatomic particles produced by the decay of radioactive elements in the atmosphere, a project that aims to make this country a global hub for high-end scientific experiments.

The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project has been cleared by the union cabinet, its director, Naba K. Mondal, said.

The underground project, which will come up near Pottipuram village in Theni district on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, will comprise a complex of caverns – the main cavern, which will house the current detector, will be 130 metres long, 26 metres wide and 30 metres high. There will be two smaller caverns to be used for setting up experiments for neutrino double detector and dark matters, Mondal said. The complex will be approached by a two-km long tunnel.

Simultaneously an Inter-Institutional Centre for High Energy Physics will come up in Madurai, about 110 kilometres from the observatory.

Mondal said India will also seek international participation in the project so that it turns out to be an international hub for high-end research like the CERN in Geneva. At the same time, Indian participation will continue in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project.

“We have not done this kind of high-end physics projects in the past after the Kolar Gold Field project was closed down. So first we have to convince the global community that we are serious,” he said.

“Now that the formal approval for the project has come, we will really want to open the space for the international community to come and participate in the experiments or even propose new experiments. The experiment that we are doing is only the first experiment. There can be other experiments like on the dark matters. So we would like to invite the international community to come here and join us and participate so that this centre becomes a global hub for such things,” Mondal added.

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The project will be jointly funded by the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Atomic Energy, while the Tamil Nadu government is helping with the infrastructure, Mondal said.

In 2012, senior CPI-M leader V.S. Achuthandan had flayed the then UPA government for facilitating a “US agenda” through the Neutrino observatory.

He, however, was misled and the project authorities were able to convince him about it, Mondal said, adding any apprehensions about the project’s impact on habitation in and around the village was unfounded.

“The Neutrino that we are going to detect is there anyway. We will only detect and study its properties. Light from the Sun, stars and galaxies are there always. When you put a telescope, you detect it. Here also the Neutrinos are coming, we are only putting the detector underground,” he said.

“We have to put it underground because on the surface, there are other interactions which will completely submerge the Neutrino event. That’s why we have to go deep underground, where other particles get absorbed and we can measure the Neutrino,” Mondal added.

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