Why do we exist? CERN’s neutrino detector looks for answers

The ProtoDUNE platform at CERN is ‘catching’ neutrino traces in a first step towards answering some of the biggest questions in theoretical physics. Matthew Stock reports.

PRÉVESSIN-MOËNS, FRANCE (REUTERS) – These colourful lines show traces of invisible, sub-atomic neutrinos – the most abundant matter particles in the universe.

They were recently captured here at CERN, Europe’s physics research centre, where the first of two installations has come online.

These traces could be the first steps to unlocking some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

Including, why do we exist at all?


“Just to give you an impression; over one centimetre of your skin, there are probably a thousand billions of neutrinos going through every second. They interact very weakly with the environment. For example, among 1 billion neutrino which arrive from the sun and goes through the Earth, the globe, just one interacts with the mass of the Earth.”

The neutrino platform is filled with 800 tonnes of liquid argon, kept at -184 degrees Celsius.

As neutrinos zip through the structure they smash into the argon nuclei, leaving traces in the liquid.

Traces that can be analysed and turned into these 3D models.


“In these parameters that we are going to define there is very important information which tells us something very fundamental about nature. For example, it will tell us why we are here and we are made of matter and we are not made of anti-matter…new physics must be there – what we describe up to now, what we call ‘the standard model’ cannot explain many things that we know exist; dark matter, for example. So this is the first opportunity to go in a reasonable way beyond the standard model and show something completely new.”

This, however, is just the prototype.

The first full-sized Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment will be over 20 times bigger and built a mile underground in the United States.

It’s scheduled to become operational in 2026.

Associated Links

  • Physics
  • Particle physics
  • Matter
  • Dark matter
  • Exotic matter
  • Leptons
  • Neutrino
  • Science
  • CERN

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