Newswise — Neutrino s are among the most abundant particles in nature, yet very little is known about these mysterious particles and their role in the universe. Researchers think neutrinos might hold the key to understanding why matter exists and how an exploding star transitions into a black hole.

Now the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, which has conducted neutrino research for many years, has taken a significant step to participate in the next big neutrino experiment: the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, hosted by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in the United States. More than 1,000 scientists from over 30 countries are collaborating on DUNE.

The two institutions have announced that they have signed an agreement to jointly appoint an internationally renowned researcher who will strengthen the experimental particle physics research program at JGU Mainz and advance a German contribution to DUNE.

This is the first Fermilab joint agreement with a university in Germany.

“This success underlines, once again, the exceptional reputation of the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence at our university and the outstanding quality of research undertaken there, thus confirming the international standing of our physicists in Mainz,” states Prof. Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

JGU Mainz and other German research institutions already play major roles in international neutrino experiments, including IceCube, Borexino, and JUNO. In recent years, German scientists have shown interest in joining DUNE, and the DESY laboratory in Hamburg will host an international workshop on contributions to the DUNE near detector, to be installed at Fermilab, in October.

“Mainz University has a great tradition in particle physics,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer.  “We are very pleased to have a joint faculty position that will seed stronger ties between our institutions.”

DUNE will send neutrino and antineutrino beams 1,300 kilometers straight through the earth to find out whether neutrinos might be responsible for the dominance of matter over antimatter in our universe. The beams originate at the Fermilab particle accelerator complex near Chicago and will travel through dirt and rock — no tunnel needed — to the enormous particle detectors located 1.5 kilometers underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility. Prep work is under way for the excavation of about 800,000 tons of rock to create the huge caverns for the DUNE far detectors.

Two “small” prototype detectors, each about the size of a three-story house, have been built at the European research center CERN, and the construction of components for the four full-size far detectors, each 20 times larger than one of the prototype detectors, will begin next year.

“We hope that the Mainz group will contribute their innovative detector concept to the DUNE near detector, which will allow us to analyze the neutrino beam at Fermilab before it goes through the earth,” said DUNE spokesperson Stefan Söldner-Rembold, University of Manchester, UK. “This is crucial for understanding the data the neutrinos produce when they arrive in South Dakota.”

The newly recruited neutrino scientist will be based in Mainz and become a member of the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence for precision physics, fundamental interactions and structure of matter. The appointed scientist also will have the opportunity for extended research stays at Fermilab.