Particle physicist Deborah Harris appointed by Fermilab and York U to lead DUNE

The search for answers to complex questions about the origins of the universe received a huge boost April 25 with the announcement of the joint appointment of leading researcher and particle physicist Deborah Harris to lead York University’s participation in the Fermilab-hosted Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). The news heralded the official start of the partnership announced last October between York University’s Faculty of Science and Fermilab, an American-based particle physics laboratory.

From left: Her Excellency the Right Honorable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada; Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab; York U Faculty of Science Dean Ray Jayawardhana; and Physicist Deborah Harris. Image courtesy of Fermilab

To help celebrate the announcement, the Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette, an engineer and former astronaut, joined officials from Fermilab and Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science at York University, for the announcement and a tour, which took place at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, is greeted by Ray Jayawardhana. Image courtesy of Fermilab

In her new role, Harris will hold the title of professor at York University while continuing as a senior scientist at Fermilab and as a leader in the study of elusive subatomic particles called neutrinos. She led the construction of the MINERvA neutrino detector at Fermilab and has served as co-leader of the experiment’s scientific collaboration since 2010. As a member of the DUNE team, Harris collaborates with more than 1,000 colleagues from around the world. Together, the international DUNE collaboration will advance research into neutrinos. These tiny particles are the most abundant in the universe, but are little understood, and could answer some of the biggest questions in physics.

Deborah Harris. Image courtesy of Fermilab

“This exciting new partnership between York University and Fermilab will highlight the research expertise available at York while providing real-world opportunities, not only for our researchers, but for our students,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “York will be on the forefront of research that could lead to discovering the role these tiny, yet abundant particles, neutrinos, play in the universe.”

DUNE, together with the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF), will send the world’s most intense beam of high-energy neutrinos 800 miles through the earth from Fermilab to the world’s most advanced neutrino detector one mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. LBNF/DUNE, which broke ground last July, will include contributions from scientists and engineers around the globe.

“The partnership with Fermilab reflects York’s commitment to world-leading research,” said Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science at York University and author of the popular science book Neutrino Hunters. “We are delighted to team up with the international collaboration building LBNF and DUNE, giving our researchers and students frontline opportunities to make significant discoveries on a global scale.”

Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, was presented a copy of Neutrino Hunters by Ray Jayawardhana, the author of the book. Image courtesy of Fermilab

Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer, a graduate of York University and former director of TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, highlighted the importance of research into these tiny particles.

“DUNE could unlock the mystery of why matter and the universe exist,” Lockyer said. “I’m delighted to be joining forces with the faculty and students from my alma mater to build the world’s most ambitious neutrino experiment.”

Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, was given a tour of the Fermilab facility by Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer (third from the right). Image courtesy of Fermilab

As part of the special event, Payette toured the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. During her visit to Fermilab, she acknowledged the importance of collaboration and close science research partnerships between Canada and the United States.

“Canadian scientists have collaborated with Fermilab for decades on particle physics research and particle accelerator technology,” Lockyer said. “I look forward to working together and seeing where the next 20 years will take us, both in particle physics technologies and better accelerators for science and society.”