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Double Chooz is Filled and Ready!

January 10, 2011

The Double Chooz collaboration recently completed its neutrino detector which will see anti-neutrinos coming from the Chooz nuclear power plant in the French Ardennes. The experiment is now ready to take data in order to measure fundamental neutrino properties with important consequences for particle and astro-particle physics.

Neutrinos are electrically neutral elementary particles, three of a kind plus their antiparticles. Though already postulated in 1930 their first experimental observation was made in 1956. Because of their weak interaction with other particles, matter is almost completely transparent to neutrinos and large sensitive detectors are needed to capture them.

Neutrino oscillations were a major discovery in the late 90-ies and the corresponding experiments were therefore included in the 2002 Nobel Prize. Oscillations describe in-flight transformations of different neutrino species into each other and the observation of this effect implies that neutrinos do have mass. The oscillations depend on three mixing parameters, of which two are large and have already been measured. The third one is called theta13 and is known to be smaller with an upper limit coming from a previous experiment at Chooz. The new Double Chooz detector is the first of a new generation of reactor neutrino experiments aiming at measuring this fundamental parameter in neutrino physics which is a key area of particle physics research. The results will also have important consequences for the feasibility of future neutrino facilities which aim at even more precise measurements.

Double Chooz consists of two identical detectors. The first one at a distance of about 1km from the reactor cores has now been filled with liquid scintillator and is beginning to take data. The measured number of neutrinos compared to the expected flux from the reactors will allow to considerably improve the sensitivity for theta13 already in 2011. The second detector located at a distance of 400 m will start operating in 2012. At this distance no significant transformation into another neutrino species is expected. By comparing the results from both detectors theta13 can be determined with even higher precision.

Both detectors use an organic liquid scintillator, which was developed specifically for this experiment. The neutrino target in the core of the detector consists of 10 m3 of Gadolinium doped scintillator which can to tag neutrons from inverse beta decays which are induced by anti-neutrinos emitted by the reactors. The target is surrounded by three layers of other liquids in order to protect against other particles and to dampen environmental radioactivity. These liquids are contained in very thin vessels, to minimize inactive volumes inside the detector. The target is observed by 390 immersed photomultipliers, which convert the interactions into electronic signals. These signals are processed in a data acquisition system which is ready to take data over the next five years. The new detectors will ensure that neutrino physics will stay one the most fruitful areas of particle physics, as it has been for the past 50 years.

The Double Chooz collaboration is composed of universities and research institutes in Brazil, England, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain and the US. Drexel University is among the US institutions in Double Chooz, with participation by Drs. Charles Lane and Jelena Maricic, and graduate students Erica Caden and Edward Damon. The Double Chooz effort at Drexel is in the areas of fast front-end electronics, photomultipliers, calibration systems, and data analysis.