The Department of Energy's Fermilab is building a gargantuan detector to examine uncharged subatomic neutrinos that can blast through the earth unimpeded. The 14,000-ton detector in Minnesota will capture neutrinos shot from a cannon over 500 miles away. Watch how they build a huge catcher's mitt for subatomic particles.

The detector, located in Ash River, Minnesota, forms half of the NOvA experiment, designed to help us understand the makeup of the universe by learning how neutrinos change in their travels. Neutrinos generated at Fermilab's Batavia, Illinois particle accelerator will hurtle 500 miles through the earth at depths of up to six miles below the earth's surface, reaching the detector in about 3 milliseconds.

While neutrinos can pass through matter unaffected, the particle beam flares out as it travels, going from just six feet wide at the start to several miles wide when it hits the detector. Hence the hugeness of the detector, made up of over 300,000 individual detecting cells.

As one can imagine, constructing this behemoth is a huge undertaking. And the especially fascinating part is, a lot of the work is being done by University of Minnesota students. If they wanted to be part of something big at college, they sure got it. [Fermilab via Symmetry Magazine]