LEAD, S.D. (KOTA TV) - In our next edition of the Sanford Science Series, we’re taking a look at a decades-old machine still cranking out data.
“It’s important to understand where we are coming from. So, where the elements that make up our world were produced, so it’s a question for our origin,” said CASPAR Principal Investigator and School of Mines Physics Professor Frank Strieder.
Scientists are studying the stars a mile underground to eliminate any background noise. When you're looking to answer science's toughest questions, you need to identify and eliminate as many variables as possible. The Sanford Underground Research Facility is one of the best places in the world to do just that.
"The detector here is a neutron detector that detects neutrons. The vial not only sees the neutrons that come from our reaction but also neutrons that are reproduced from cosmic rays on the surface. That hampers our experiment, our observation of this signal of this nuclear reaction," said Strieder.
CASPAR is only one of two underground accelerators in the world. It was built in 1958 and in 2000, it was brought to the University of Notre Dame. Now, it lives underground in Lead. Here's how it works:
"So we shoot the particles on what we call a target and they initiate the nuclear reaction, which we are looking for. If, for example, we are looking for a nuclear reaction between hydrogen and nitrogen, then we have a proton beam, a hydrogen beam and our target at the end is a layer of nitrogen. In this layer, you have the nuclear reaction and we look for the signal of the nuclear reaction which is the emission of gamma ray."
The accelerator is more than 60 years old and needs regular maintenance to provide the best results. In this line of work, there's no room for even the slightest deviation.
"They're changing a piece so that we can continue the measurements towards lower energies, and before you came in, we had to change what we call the ion source, basically the place where we create the beam."
Back in 2017, CASPAR celebrated a huge milestone: its first beam. The end goal for the field of nuclear astrophysics is to complete the puzzle of how everything is made in the universe and the locations and processes that form such production.