Why the Path Breaking INO Project Is Dubbed ‘I’m Now Overdue’?

by Qudsia Gani

The elusive Neutrinos particles are jam-packing the universe and are associated with some deepest mysteries of nature. There is a high likelihood that everything in the world in a few decades from now may prove to be neutrinos only.

A collision of two protons, a Higgs boson is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue.

Proposed in 2005, approved in 2015, walking the way for seventeen years and may be yet more to go, INO has turned into an acronym for I’m Now Overdue.

The Indian Neutrino Observatory project has been kept stuck for some concerns and pleas, like the safety of tigers and trees, as if it shall be their first-time encounter with rude radiation. This is purely notional.

Least, do we know that neutrinos have been traversing every living and non-living, every tangible and intangible and every accessible and inaccessible ever since the birth of the Universe? A hundred billion of them, for example, pass only through our thumbnail every second.

It is not a usual alpha, beta or gamma radiation to be afraid of. It is a natural neutral breeze that has always existed, passing through anything and everything practically unimpeded at nearly the speed of light. These particles touch us without tearing and pass through us without puncturing. It is a charge-neutral, non-violent species and because of their absolute non-interference with our day-to-day affairs, health or wealth, we have least known the most abundant particles, all around and inside us.

These have been the most elusive particles. Neutrinos are jam-packing the Universe and are associated with some deepest mysteries of nature. There is a high likelihood that everything in the world in a few decades from now may prove to be neutrinos only.

A neutrino is a fermion, an elementary particle that interacts only via weak interaction and gravity. It is electrically neutral and because its rest mass is so small that it was long thought to be zero. The rest mass of the neutrino is much smaller than that of the other known elementary particles excluding massless particles.

This has set a race among the scientifically curious nations to explore these elusive particles as much as one can and come first with any exciting truths. We are one of that curious lot. We are additionally fortunate to have a geographic location in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu near Bodh Gaya hills, ideally suited to the experiment.

Various public outreach programmes have been successfully conducted by the INO scientists to ensure people about this inoffensive adventure. After a detailed survey and geotechnical investigations, few steps have been taken forward. Bore wells are drilled and the compound wall is ready. The tunnelling has been horizontal because vertically, it could destroy structures as well as the water table.

The entire course of progress of the project has proceeded with due care and caution. The National Green Tribunal in March 2022, has upheld the environmental clearance issued by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests in favour of INO. Another approval is awaited from the National Board of Wildlife for INO to be ready, steady, and go.

However, the current dispensation in Tamil Nadu is again in a mood to drop the project, citing concerns for biodiversity, ecology, environment and the livelihood of people. These reasons are valid but overweighed vis a vis the estimations of the project. This overestimation may turn a success into failure and bring a promising project to an end.

Even if it is supposed to be an infringement of say, 100 metres, what about the public and private enterprises that violate the same norms by bigger margins and yet keep going well? Let us choose a median between managing problems and pursuing a dream. Let us try to arrive at a solution rather than a full stop. Even the word impossible says it is possible.

India Neutrino Observatory (INO) is a Rs 1500 crore particle physics research project under construction to primarily study atmospheric neutrinos in a 1200 meters deep cave under INO Peak near Theni, Tamil Nadu. It is anticipated to provide a precise measurement of neutrino mixing parameters. It is delayed but still underway. When completed, the main magnetised iron calorimeter (ICAL) experiment will include the world’s largest magnet, four times larger than the 12,500-tonne magnet in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

The main concern essentially, is that the blasting of rocks for tunnelling purposes may put the local population in trouble besides bothering the flora and fauna. However, the blasting will be carried out in a controlled manner and the impact of vibrations can be limited with the help of computer simulations. This is much similar to the construction of road tunnels built extensively in the country wherein we see that the environmental impacts and the local concerns are well managed.

All disturbances are not destructive, nor do all storms come to disrupt our life. Some come to clear our path and make way for progress. There are very valid reasons to carry on with this project. This will place India on the international map for doing advanced research in a topic of immense current scientific interest. The foreign researchers including some Nobel laureates have also shown a great deal of interest in collaborating with the project.

Dr Qudsia Gani

The nature of the research is such that any further delays will only place us next to someone, for exploring a truth that we were otherwise capable of bringing out in advance. Let us not regret not doing, what we could have done at the right earnest. Let us hurry up instead.

Independent India is yet to have a Nobel laureate in sciences though there are many sons of Indian soil to achieve this feat, post-independence. We have distanced them by delays and we are further de-motivating the current regime of scientists by doing something quite undesirable and yet popular among us viz; tareekh pe tareekh (trial after trial). Let us bring to fruition, a novel idea of the scientists of the homeland. Let us trust the novelty of natives and help them in retaining faith in the credibility of our institutions. Accord them a nod and let the signal go green.

(Dr Qudsia Gani teaches Physics at the Cluster University Srinagar. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)

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