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New neutrino detector to bring jobs to northern St. Louis County

A collar (center circle) is installed on one of the octagonal sheets of steel of the neutrino detector in the Soudan Mine. Groundbreaking for a second detector in northern St. Louis County is expected to be this spring. (2001 file / News Tribune)

Millions in federal stimulus money for an international physics laboratory in Northeastern Minnesota will create more than 60 construction jobs this spring.

A May 1 groundbreaking is scheduled for a lab near the Ash River, 40 miles southeast of International Falls. The building and three-mile long road is part of the neutrino experiment begun in 2005 by the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago.

"You put 60 jobs in northern St. Louis County like that, and it has a really big impact on rural communities," said John Schadl of U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar's office, who noted that concrete and steel from local suppliers would be used. About 40 technicians would be needed to install the detection equipment and 10 scientists would carry out the research when construction is finished.

A neutrino detector buried in the Soudan Underground Mine already gathers data sent from Chicago, and the second detector will help. Neutrinos must be sent long distances to be studied accurately.

Neutrinos are the universe's ghost particles, subatomic particles that can help researchers -- including those from the University of Minnesota system -- discover how the universe was formed and how it will develop in the future. The total cost of the second project is $250 million. The $40.1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allows the university to begin building the lab.

The 70-foot building will be sunk 40 feet into the ground. Construction is expected to be complete in 2011, said Judy Jackson, communications director for Fermilab.

The new lab, named NuMI Off-Axis Electron Neutrino Appearance (NOvA; the v is for the scientific notation of electron neutrino as "ve") Detector Facility at Ash River Site, will be operated by an international group of scientists called the NOvA Collaboration.

"NOvA will be the most advanced neutrino experiment in the world," Jackson said. "And it will provide much-needed jobs both here in Illinois and in Minnesota."