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India’s science academies come together for the Neutrino Observatory

  • Infographic : Purabi Deshpande / Research Matters
    Infographic : Purabi Deshpande / Research Matters

In a step that could ease some tension about India's Neutrino Observatory, the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS) have issued a joint statement supporting the India-based neutrino observatory to be set up in Bodi West Hills in Theni district of Tamil Nadu.

The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) is a multi-institutional collaboration to build a world-class underground laboratory to study high energy and nuclear physics. The primary goal of the laboratory is to study neutrinos—fundamental particles with almost no mass that are produced either by radioactivity in the atmosphere, or by the Sun, or by high energy particles coming from space. The laboratory will consist of a large cavern longer but narrower than an average football pitch, and several smaller caverns. These are accessed by a 2100 m long and 7.5 m wide tunnel. The laboratory will also house one of the world’s most massive magnetised iron plates weighing a whopping 50,000 tons!

However, the rosy dream of INO being a full-fledged, underground science laboratory for studies in physics, biology, geology and hydrology has run into obstacles since its inception in 2002. The project faced initial setbacks when the first chosen location in Singara near Nilgiri Hills, Tamil Nadu faced immense protest from environmental groups, due to a perceived threat to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. It was then shifted to Bodi West Hills in Theni, where the project again raised many environmental concerns, again due to its proximity to Mathikettan Shola National Park in Kerala. In a whiff of relief, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, finally provided the clearance for the project to go ahead as a special case, after obtaining the necessary permissions from the State Pollution Control Board and forest clearances, on 26th March 2018.

The INO project is of the nation's largest scientific project yet, where nearly 100 scientists, from 25 research institutes and universities across the country, would be collaborating to create new waves in particle physics with their research. In their statement, the three premier academies also highlighted the same, affirming their support to INO. “The Science Academies of India are strongly supportive of the establishment of such an experimental facility for its intrinsic scientific value”, reads the statement.

The statement also appealed to the nation to support the collaborative effort—“The science academies hereby appeal to people of the district, state, and country to support this educational and research project wholeheartedly. A successful INO experiment will be a major technological and scientific national achievement.”