Construction of DUNE begins

Construction begins on international mega-science experiment to understand neutrinos

Groundbreaking held today in South Dakota marks the start of excavation for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, future home to the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. 

With the turning of a shovelful of earth a mile underground, a new era in international particle physics research officially began today.

In a unique groundbreaking ceremony held this afternoon at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, a group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries. 

When complete, LBNF/DUNE will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos. Unlocking the mysteries of these particles could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all. 

At its peak, construction of LBNF is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs throughout South Dakota and a similar number of jobs in Illinois. Institutions in dozens of countries will contribute to the construction of DUNE components. The DUNE experiment will attract students and young scientists from around the world, helping to foster the next generation of leaders in the field and to maintain the highly skilled scientific workforce in the United States and worldwide.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located outside Chicago, will generate a beam of neutrinos and send them 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) through the Earth to Sanford Lab, where a four-story-high, 70,000-ton detector will be built beneath the surface to catch those neutrinos.  

Scientists will study the interactions of neutrinos in the detector, looking to better understand the changes these particles undergo as they travel across the country in less than the blink of an eye. Ever since their discovery 61 years ago, neutrinos have proven to be one of the most surprising subatomic particles, and the fact that they oscillate between three different states is one of their biggest surprises. That discovery began with a solar neutrino experiment led by physicist Ray Davis in the 1960s, performed in the same underground mine that now will house LBNF/DUNE. Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2002 for his experiment. 

DUNE scientists will also look for the differences in behavior between neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, 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, bringing us closer to fulfilling Einstein’s dream of a grand unified theory.

But first, the facility must be built, and that will happen over the next 10 years. Now that the first shovel of earth has been moved, crews will begin to excavate more than 870,000 tons of rock to create the huge underground caverns for the DUNE detector. Large DUNE prototype detectors are under construction at European research center CERN, a major partner in the project, and the technology refined for those smaller versions will be tested and scaled up when the massive DUNE detectors are built. 

This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in conjunction with CERN and international partners from 30 countries. DUNE collaborators come from institutions in Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States.

CIEMAT Participation

Four Spanish research centers are part of the DUNE scientific collaboration. Their contributions cover both the design and construction of the experiment, particularly the detectors that will be installed in SURF, and the studies to optimize the scientific reach of the experiment. A preliminary and crucial step in the construction of these detectors at SURF is to operate prototypes to test the technology. This task, where the Spanish institutions are also involved, is carried out at CERN with the construction of two large prototypes, called ProtoDUNE single phase (ProtoDUNE-SP) and ProtoDUNE dual phase (ProtoDUNE-DP), which will be tested with beams of charged particles from 2018.

The María de Maeztu Unit of Excellence of CIEMAT - Particle Physics participates in the DUNE experiment through the neutrino group. The group consists of four doctors, four PhD students, five engineers and three support technicians.

The CIEMAT neutrino group, in coordination with the IFAE in Barcelona, is responsible for the ProtoDUNE-DP light detection system, consisting of 36 photomultipliers that detect and amplify the light produced by the interactions of particles in the detector, and convert it into an electrical signal. CIEMAT performs the characterization of these photomultipliers to understand its response to different light signals. The mechanical assembly and electrical components necessary for the operation of photomultipliers are also designed and produced by CIEMAT personnel. In addition, the photomultipliers require a special coating that allows to change the invisible light produced in the argon into a wavelength visible by the detectors, which is done by the IFAE. To verify the correct functioning of the photomultipliers, a light monitor system is being designed and tested. With the aim of demonstrating large-scale double-phase technology, a 3x1x1 m3 detector has been installed at CERN and data is currently being taken. IFAE and CIEMAT scientists are responsible for the analysis of the light collected by 5 photomultipliers of the 3x1x1 m3 detector in order to complete the design of the ProtoDUNE-DP detector of 6x6x6 m³.

In addition, CIEMAT coordinates the DUNE working group dedicated to the detection of neutrinos from supernovae. The light signal produced by photomultipliers is essential to indicate the beginning of events caused by the explosion of a supernova. CIEMAT scientists are including the light detection system within the  simulation and data analysis code.


Energy Secretary Rick Perry 
“The start of construction on this world-leading science experiment is cause for celebration, not just because of its positive impacts on the economy and on America’s strong relationships with our international partners, but also because of the fantastic discoveries that await us beyond the next horizon. I’m proud to support the efforts by Fermilab, Sanford Underground Research Facility and CERN, and we’re pleased to see it moving forward.” 

Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, Office of Science and Technology Policy
“Today's groundbreaking for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility marks a historic moment for American leadership in science and technology. It also serves as a model for what the future of mega-science research looks like: an intensely collaborative effort between state, local and federal governments, international partners, and enterprising corporate and philanthropic pioneers whose combined efforts will significantly increase our understanding of the universe. The White House celebrates today with everyone who is bringing this once-in-a-generation endeavor to life, including the men and women providing the logistical organization and financial capital to set the project on the right foot, the physical labor to construct these incredible facilities, and the scientific vision to discover new truths through their work here.”

Director Nigel Lockyer, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
“Fermilab is proud to host the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, which bring together scientists from 30 countries in a quest to understand the neutrino. This is a true landmark day and the start of a new era in global neutrino physics.” 

Executive Director Mike Headley, Sanford Underground Research Facility
“The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority is proud to be hosting the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility at the Sanford Underground Research Facility. This milestone represents the start of construction of the largest mega-science project in the United States. We’re excited to be working with the project and the international DUNE collaboration and expanding our knowledge of the role neutrinos play in the makeup of the universe.”

Director-General Fabiola Gianotti, CERN
“Some of the open questions in fundamental physics today are related to extremely fascinating and elusive particles called neutrinos. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility in the United States, whose start of construction is officially inaugurated with today’s groundbreaking ceremony, brings together the international particle physics community to explore some of the most interesting properties of neutrinos.”

Executive Director of Programmes Grahame Blair, Science and Technology Facilities Council, United Kingdom
“The groundbreaking ceremony today is a significant milestone in what is an extremely exciting prospect for the UK research community. The DUNE project will delve deeper into solving the unanswered questions of our universe, opening the doors to a whole new set of tools to probe its constituents at a very fundamental level, indeed, even addressing how it came to be. International partnerships are key to building these leading-edge experiments, which explore the origins of the universe, and I am very happy to be a representative of the international community here today.”

President Fernando Ferroni, National Institute for Nuclear Physics, Italy
“We are very proud of this great endeavour of Fermilab as its technology has roots in the work undertaken by Carlo Rubbia at the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy.” 

Professor Ed Blucher, University of Chicago and co-spokesperson, DUNE collaboration
“Today is extremely exciting for all of us in the DUNE collaboration. It marks the start of an incredibly challenging and ambitious experiment that could have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe.”

Professor Mark Thomson, University of Cambridge and co-spokesperson, DUNE collaboration
“The international DUNE collaboration came together to realize a dream of a game-changing program of neutrino science; today represents a major milestone in turning this dream into reality."

Illustrations and animations of the LBNF/DUNE project and its science goals are available at:

More information about the facility and experiment can be found at:


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. Visit Fermilab’s website at and follow us on Twitter at @Fermilab.

The DOE 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

Sanford Lab is operated by the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) with funding from the Department of Energy. Our mission is to advance compelling underground, multidisciplinary research in a safe work environment and to inspire and educate through science, technology, and engineering. Visit Sanford Lab at

Illustration 1: Scheme of DUNE
Illustration 2: Photography taken during the installation of ProtoDUNE-DP experiment at CERN