The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project involving 25 research institutions and universities across the country will focus on studying atmospheric neutrinos for the next 15 years, Naba K. Mondal, senior professor, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), has said.

Addressing a public science lecture organised by the Kerala State Science and Technology Museum (KSSTM) here on Tuesday, Prof. Mondal said India had much to gain from collaborating with other countries in neutrino research.

Observing that a neutrino factory producing a concentrated beam of the tiny, neutral elementary particles was several decades away from becoming a reality, he said India could benefit from such a facility when it became operational. “INO is essentially designed to help us understand the basic nature of neutrinos. It will explore neutrino mass parameters and other properties.”

He said it would attract scientists from all over the world to do basic research.

Explaining the features of the project, Prof. Mondal said it involved the construction of a neutrino detector housed in an underground laboratory at Pottipuram in Theni, Tamil Nadu. The laboratory would be accessed through a 1.9 km tunnel. The detector, he said, would consist of magnetized iron plates arranged in stacks with resistive plate chambers in between. The plates would provide a magnetic filed to detect neutrinos and anti-neutrinos.

Prof. Mondal said the development of detector technology and its applications was a key component of the project.

Highlighting the features of neutrinos, he said the particles were safe, irrespective of their energy, and whether they were produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere or in a neutrino factory. “They interact rarely with matter. Every second a human body receives 4,00,000 billion neutrinos from the sun. The natural radioactivity of the earth releases 50 billion neutrinos while nuclear plants release 10 to 100 billion neutrinos. The human body also emits about 340 million neutrinos every day.”

Prof. Mondal said neutrino researchers in India had zeroed in on Theni to set up the underground lab after the earlier facility had to be wound up when the Kolar gold field was closed down. “The Theni site was chosen based on data provided by the Geological Survey of India. The flat terrain with good access road, low rainfall and humidity, and vertical rock cover of 1289 m were conducive factors.”

He said the INO project had succeeded in creating an interface with industry for fabrication of particle detectors and stimulated an interest in basic science research. “Students from participating institutions are trained at TIFR in technology and theory and periodically visit laboratories for exposure.”

Prof. Mondal said INO would help Indian science address key questions in neutrino physics and develop cutting-edge technology for particle detectors. “It will instil a culture of collaboration and cooperation in science and build a scientifically richer nation.”

Dismissing apprehensions about the underground laboratory, he said the facility had secured all the mandatory clearances. He said geologists had certified the stability of the rock. He added that the tunnelling work for the project would not affect the dams in Idukki district.