CUORE Underground Experiment in Italy Carries on Despite Pandemic

Newly enhanced remote tools can issue automated alerts, allow researchers to better monitor equipment and data-taking from around the globe
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
12-May-2020 11:00 AM EDT, by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Note: This is the first part in a recurring series highlighting Berkeley Lab’s ongoing work in international physics collaborations during the pandemic.

Newswise — As the COVID-19 outbreak took hold in Italy, researchers working on a nuclear physics experiment called CUORE at an underground laboratory in central Italy scrambled to keep the ultrasensitive experiment running and launch new tools and rules for remote operations.

This Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events experiment – designed to find a never-before-seen process involving ghostly particles known as neutrinos, to explain why matter won out over antimatter in our universe, and to also hunt for signs of mysterious dark matter – is carrying on with its data-taking uninterrupted while some other projects and experiments around the globe have been put on hold.

Finding evidence for these rare processes requires long periods of data collection – and a lot of patience. CUORE has been collecting data since May 2017, and after upgrade efforts in 2018 and 2019 the experiment has been running continuously.

Before the pandemic hit there were already tools in place that stabilized the extreme cooling required for CUORE’s detectors and provided some remote controls and monitoring of CUORE systems, noted Yury Kolomensky, senior faculty scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the U.S. spokesperson for CUORE.

The rapid global spread of the disease, and related restrictions on access to the CUORE experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratory (Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, or LNGS, operated by the Italian Nuclear Physics Institute, INFN) in central Italy, prompted CUORE leadership and researchers – working in three continents – to act quickly to ramp up the remote controls to prepare for an extended period with only limited access to the experiment.

Just days before the new restrictions went into effect at Gran Sasso, CUORE leadership on March 4 made the decision to rapidly deploy a new remote system and to work out the details of how to best maintain the experiment with limited staffing and with researchers monitoring in different time zones. The new system was fully operational about a week later, and researchers at Berkeley Lab played a role in rolling it out.

“We were already planning to transition to remote shift operations, whereby a scientist at a home institution would monitor the systems in real time, respond to alarms, and call on-site and on-call personnel in case an emergency intervention is needed,” Kolomensky said, adding, “We were commissioning the system at the time of the outbreak.”

Brad Welliver, a postdoctoral researcher, served as Berkeley Lab’s lead developer for the new remote monitoring system, and Berkeley Lab staff scientist Brian Fujikawa was the overall project lead for the enhanced remote controls, collectively known as CORC, for CUORE Online/Offline Run Check. 

Fujikawa tested controls for starting and stopping the data collection process, and also performed other electronics testing for the experiment from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He noted that the system is programmed to send email and voice alarms to the designated on-shift CUORE researcher if something is awry with any CUORE system. “This alarm system is particularly important when operating CUORE remotely,” he said, as in some cases on-site workers may need to visit the experiment promptly to perform repairs or other needed work. 

Development of so-called “slow controls,” which allow researchers to monitor and control CUORE equipment such as pumps and sensors, was led by Joe Johnston at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Now we can perform most of the operations from 6,000 miles away,” Kolomensky said.

And many participants across the collaboration continue to play meaningful roles in the experiment from their homes, from analyzing data and writing papers to participating in long-term planning and remote meetings. 

Despite access restrictions at Gran Sasso, experiments are still accessible for necessary work and checkups. The laboratory remains open in a limited way, and its staff still maintains all of its needed services and equipment, from shuttles to computing services.

Laura Marini, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley who serves as a run coordinator for CUORE and is now living near Gran Sasso, is among a handful of CUORE researchers who still routinely visits the lab site.

“As a run coordinator, I need to make sure that the experiment works fine and the data quality is good,” she said. “Before the pandemic spread, I was going underground maybe not every day, but at least a few times a week.” Now, it can be about once every two weeks.

Sometimes she is there to carry out simple fixes, like a stuck computer that needs to be restarted, she said. Now, in addition to the requisite hard hat and heavy shoes, Marini – like so many others around the globe who are continuing to work – must wear a mask and gloves to guard against the spread of COVID-19.

The simple act of driving into the lab site can be complicated, too, she said. “The other day, I had to go underground and the police stopped me. So I had to fill in a paper to declare why I was going underground, the fact that it was needed, and that I was not just wandering around by car,” she said. Restrictions in Italy prevent most types of travel. 

CUORE researchers note that they are fortunate the experiment was already in a state of steady data-taking when the pandemic hit. “There is no need for continuous intervention,” Marini said. “We can do most of our checks by remote.”

She said she is grateful to be part of an international team that has “worked together on a common goal and continues to do so” despite the present-day challenges.

Kolomensky noted some of the regular maintenance and upgrades planned for CUORE will be put off as a result of the shelter-in-place restrictions, though there also appears to be an odd benefit of the reduced activity at the Gran Sasso site. “We see an overall reduction in the detector noise, which we attribute to a significantly lower level of activity at the underground lab and less traffic in the highway tunnel,” he said. Researchers are working to verify this.

CUORE already had systems in place to individually and remotely monitor data-taking by each of the experiment’s 988 detectors. Benjamin Schmidt, a Berkeley Lab postdoctoral researcher, had even developed software that automatically flags periods of “noisy” or poor data-taking captured by CUORE’s array of detectors.

Kolomensky noted that work on the CORC remote tools is continuing. “As we have gained more experience and discovered issues, improvements and bug fixes have been implemented, and these efforts are still ongoing,” he said.

CUORE is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics (Instituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, or INFN), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). CUORE collaboration members include: INFN, University of Bologna, University of Genoa, University of Milano-Bicocca, and Sapienza University in Italy; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; Berkeley Lab; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; University of South Carolina; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; and Yale University in the US; Saclay Nuclear Research Center (CEA) and the Irène Joliot-Curie Laboratory (CNRS/IN2P3, Paris Saclay University) in France; and Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

 

See related articles:

# # #

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

 

DOE’s 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 energy.gov/science.




Filters close

Showing results

110 of 2887
Released: 12-Aug-2020 3:50 PM EDT
MTSU, Texas State professors posit pandemic offers 'largest criminological experiment in history'
Middle Tennessee State University

In a research paper published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, Ben Stickle, an associate professor of criminal justice administration, posits that the novel coronavirus tragedy presents a unique opportunity for a “randomized control trial.” The paper is co-authored by Stickle and Marcus Felson of Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

Newswise:Video Embedded clearing-confusion-on-asymptomatic-spread
VIDEO
Released: 12-Aug-2020 3:30 PM EDT
Clearing confusion on asymptomatic spread
UW Medicine

Confusion abounds about the difference between asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections when it comes to the pandemic coronavirus. Dr. John Lynch, medical director of infection prevention and control at Harborview, explains what it means.

Released: 12-Aug-2020 2:35 PM EDT
Survey Results Detail Signs of Improving Conditions for CRNAs
American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA)

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) discovered in a new survey that employment opportunities for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) during the COVID-19 public health crisis is improving.

Released: 12-Aug-2020 2:05 PM EDT
Combating child weight gain during COVID-19
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

The infamous “Quarantine 15,” a reference to packing on the pounds during the pandemic, is affecting even the youngest of Americans, according to UT Physicians pediatricians, who are seeing the evidence in front of them via telemedicine appointments.

Newswise:Video Embedded jhu-robotic-system-remotely-controls-ventilators-in-covid-19-patient-rooms
VIDEO
Released: 12-Aug-2020 1:10 PM EDT
JHU Robotic System Remotely Controls Ventilators In COVID-19 Patient Rooms
Johns Hopkins University

A new robotic system allows medical staff to remotely operate ventilators and other bedside machines from outside intensive care rooms of patients suffering from infectious diseases.

Newswise: Sandia Science & Tech Park spurs economic growth
Released: 12-Aug-2020 1:05 PM EDT
Sandia Science & Tech Park spurs economic growth
Sandia National Laboratories

A new, independent report has concluded that the Sandia Science & Technology Park contributed significantly to the local economy in 2018-19 by adding 310 jobs and generating increases in economic activity and tax revenue to the city and New Mexico.

Newswise: Sciatica – A Common “Pain in the Nerve” for All Ages
Released: 12-Aug-2020 12:55 PM EDT
Sciatica – A Common “Pain in the Nerve” for All Ages
Hackensack Meridian Health

COVID-19 stay-at-home guidelines have created many lifestyle changes, including new home workout routines and do-it-yourself home improvement projects. Doctors warn, however, that increased activity for those not used to certain exertion levels can lead to strains and pains, including one of the most common nerve conditions, sciatica (sy-at’-ick-uh).

Released: 12-Aug-2020 12:10 PM EDT
Grant boosts psychosocial care resources during COVID-19 pandemic
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences

The Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology has received a $50,000 grant from Los Angeles-based PHASE ONE Foundation to support psychosocial care for people with cancer, their families and frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newswise: When can kids return to sports after COVID-19? Doctors weigh in
Released: 12-Aug-2020 12:05 PM EDT
When can kids return to sports after COVID-19? Doctors weigh in
University of Virginia Health System

Pediatric cardiologists are offering important advice on if and when it is safe for children and teens to return to playing sports after recovering from COVID-19.

Released: 12-Aug-2020 9:15 AM EDT
Mount Sinai’s Arnhold Institute for Global Health Partners with NYC Health + Hospitals on COVID-19 Unit for Research at Elmhurst (CURE-19)
Mount Sinai Health System

Collaboration Brings Together Clinicians and Researchers on the Front Lines of COVID-19 to Support Innovative Solutions for Health Disparities


Showing results

110 of 2887

close
2.14297