Neutrino in elephants way
A proposed observatory in Nilgiri forests threatens to disturb wildlife movement
In early 2000, a team of scientists gathered at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata and decided to revive research on neutrinos, tiny elemental particles that can pass through almost all matter unhindered. A flurry of meetings followed culminating in a project called India-based Neutrino Observatory (ino), touted as the biggest and most ambitious experiment on particle physics in India. This has generated much enthusiasm among physicists, for though neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles that make up the universe, they are least understood. There are only a handful of observatories in the world carrying out experiments on neutrinos.
Environmental activists and conservationists, however, are apprehensive about the multi-crore-rupees project because it is proposed to come up in the middle of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (nbr), a 5,520 sq km of contiguous protected forest at a tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They fear constructing the observatory will disrupt elephant corridors and add more population to the area, leading to its ecological degradation. A joint committee of the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Science and Technology handling the ino project, however, claims adequate measures will be taken to protect the environment.
Tonnes of trouble
The facility will be located in a cavern in Singara hill, five-and-a-half km from Masinagudi town in Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu. The cavern will be accessible from the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (tneb) compound inside the forest through a 2.4-km-long tunnel.
The reason for having an underground observatory is to filter all possible radiation that can hinder detection of neutrinos, says Amit Roy, director, Nuclear Science Centre, Delhi.