Strieder Leads Sanford Lab CASPAR Team in Unlocking Secrets of the Universe

Mines physicist Dr. Frank Strieder is the principal investigator on the CASPAR experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility.

In a cavern buried beneath a mile of rock at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, a School of Mines team has spent the last year assembling an accelerator that could alter the scientific world with quiet bursts of energy.

The Compact Accelerator System Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR) experiment hopes to understand the origins of the universe by mimicking nuclear fusion in stars, studying the smallest scale possible to understand the largest scale possible.

Led by South Dakota Mines’ Dr. Frank Strieder of the Department of Physics, the team of scientists includes researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the Colorado School of Mines, as well as seven Mines students—three doctoral students and four undergraduates. Strieder designed the 45-foot-long accelerator and spent a year purchasing or machining parts and then assembling them.

Data collection is expected to begin within the next month.

The idea behind the experiment is to generate the type of energy inside a star, allowing scientists to understand how stars were formed and where they are in their lifespan, which could lead to other discoveries about life in the universe.

One kilometer away inside another cavity of the sprawling deep underground laboratory, Ray Davis observed for the first time 50 years ago that neutrinos came from the sun. Davis earned the Nobel Prize for his discovery.

“We know basic principles. We know stars produce energy by nuclear fusion, but there are things we need to understand better, including how the elements between iron and uranium on the elements chart originated,” says Strieder.

Only hydrogen and helium resulted from the so-called Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago. “All the other elements around us, potassium in our bones, the air we breathe, oxygen, carbon, all of these elements were done in the stars, later in the universe,” says Strieder, whose childhood fantasy of traveling into space morphed into a study of astronomy and then astrophysics.

The experimental aspect of physics, to be able to work with his hands designing and building accelerators, was attractive to him and ultimately led him to the deep underground experiments, where results are shielded from cosmic rays.

“It was always my dream to understand the stars, and I ended up doing experiments a mile underground in the same place where Ray Davis made his groundbreaking discovery of solar neutrinos. That was the proof that solar energy is provided by nuclear reactions, and here we are studying nuclear reactions. So everything is coming back full circle,” says Strieder.

Strieder previously worked with the world’s first underground accelerator project, the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics, at Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy.


Last edited 11/3/2016 9:09:08 PM

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