Scientists make advancement with underground dark matter experiment

Scientists from all over the world are using the Sanford Lab at Homestake to help them answer questions about the universe, more specifically, dark matter. To detect the undetectable, scientists are working from the ground up.


“Either we will find it or we will figure out new constraints on its nature,” said Simon Firocci, the LUX science coordinator.

Construction of an underground experiment to find dark matter began 3-years-ago, at lab nearly a mile underground.

“They are trying to understand more about what’s going on in the universe,” said lab supervisor Connie Giroux.

As with the universe, dark matter is sort of a mystery. Scientists know it makes up 23% of the universe but without the help of gravity it’s hard to find.

“If we find it, if we can actually find any direction of it, then we have a lot more handle on its actual nature and its properties,” said Firocci. “And without that there’s not much more we can do but say it exists but we’d really like to say a lot more.”

Scientists working on the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment are now a step closer to finding dark matter. They’ve filled their detector with xenon, a gas they’ve cooled to its liquid state. The detector sits inside a 72,000 gallon tank.

“We have to surround our detector with lots of shielding, in our case we use a large tank of ultra pure water to shield the detector,” said Dan McKinsey, assistant professor at Yale University. “The other thing we need to do is go deep underground because a lot of the radioactivity at the surface comes from cosmic rays.”

Now that the xenon is inside the detector, scientists will circulate it, purify it inside the detector for a few weeks and then start taking dark matter data for a year. Scientists will have to analyze and verify the data.  But if all goes well, this could be the team that cracks a universal mystery.

And when LUX is done, there will be more research ahead.

“I think the main focus right now is what comes after LUX,” said McKinsey. “We have a design that we’re building to how we would build the next generation of dark matter experiments.”

The future experiments will use the same water tank in the same lab to produce the same results but on a much larger scale.

“Instead of having 350 kg of Xenon we would have 7,000 kg or 7 tons,” said McKinsey.

Scientists say it’s all in the hopes of bringing the dark side of dark matter to light. The current LUX experiment is expected to wrap-up in 2015.


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