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Sanford Lab: World’s Most Sensitive Dark Matter Detector Set For 2020

Amy Varland

Officials say an upgrade to the dark matter detector  at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead passed critical steps to be up and running by 2020.

Dark matter may account for a sizable chunk of the mass of the universe, but scientists still have little understanding of it.

The U.S. Department of Energy approved the budget, timeline and scope of the Lux-Zepelin or LZ dark matter particle detector.

This approval means scientists can now start gathering materials and preparing the facility.

Officials say the new LZ dark matter detector is 100 times more sensitive than its predecessor, the Large Underground Xenon experiment. The LZ detector’s goal is to find WIMPS or weakly interacting massive particles that could lead to a better understanding of dark matter.  
In order to see these particles, scientists have to go deep underground. Dr. Harry Nelson is a physicist and the spokesperson for the LZ detector. He says the project will be a refrigerator sized cylinder filled with liquid xenon.
“And more or less if a dark matter particle collides with the xenon atom, it’ll emit light, it’ll produce new light, it’ll light up, if that makes sense, so we have a way of convincing dark matter to make light for us and the secret is the xenon, without the xenon there you couldn’t coax the dark matter into making this light,” says Nelson.
Nelson says that it has taken a lot to get this far in the project. He says including scaling government hurdles, approving a budget and gathering materials, the LZ experiment needs to be built in a nearly spotless above ground location.
“The big deal is, you know, it feels, I mean, it’s like a big train is rolling forward now. It’s like we designed the train, we had it, it’s a bad analogy because we’re not building a train but, the project is really rolling forward now, I mean every week somebody is saying “I’ve got all this ready to go and company’s going to start building and is that okay?” and it really feels like, you know, the plan has come together and we’re really executing it now,” says Nelson.
Nelson says the LZ experiment is a collaboration between South Dakota, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Portugal. He says the U.S. will contribute to  around $56 million and that close to $17 million will come from the other sources.