The Gran Sasso National Laboratory, a particle physics research centre 15 km from L’Aquila in central Italy, has survived intact the earthquake that destroyed the historic town on 6 April, and killed at least 180 people.
“Gran Sasso labs and experiments have not suffered consequences of the earthquake,” says Eugenio Coccia, the centre’s director. “But of course many staff have had their houses destroyed, like so many others who live in the region.”
Scientific experiments are being monitored, but no major experimental work will take place until after the Easter holiday, says Coccia. Normal scientific work will begin Tuesday 14 April.
The research centre investigates the properties of neutrinos and dark matter. Its large underground labs built deep inside the Gran Sasso mountain were designed to withstand powerful earthquakes. The epicentre of this one, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, was just 10 km west of the centre.
The main highway to the laboratories has been closed for safety reasons, as small quakes are still occurring. The centre has offered to shelter those left homeless by the quake in its surface facilities.
In the meantime, the centre has distanced itself from Giampaolo Giuliani who claims to have predicted the earthquake and says that his warning was ignored. Giuliani has developed and patented a radon detector which he says enables him to predict earthquakes by detecting the radioactive gas leaking from underground sources. However, earthquake and civil defence experts in Italy said that it is not possible to predict the time and location of an earthquake with that –or any other – method.
Giuliani is quoted in many media reports as being a Gran Sasso staff member, but Caccia says this is not the case. “He is a technician in a collaboration with Gran Sasso which is based in Turin (in northern Italy) – and his work on earthquakes is a hobby, nothing to do with the research project here.” Caccia says the research centre has been a “bit embarrassed” by the media reports.