Sanford Lab: Discovering Science Pt 2

Posted: Updated:
LEAD, S.D. -

The LUX-ZEPLIN (Large Underground Xenon - ZonEd Proportional scintillation in Liquid Noble gases) is the next step in the search for elusive dark matter, which could lead to a brand new Periodic Table of dark matter elements. The second series of LUX experiments are looking for the existence of dark matter in the universe.

Sanford Lab recently competed the first phase, and despite not finding any dark matter, the tests gave scientists their best leads yet about where to continue the search.

"There was no dark matter signal seen in LUX," said Dr. Jerat Heise, the science liaison director at Sanford Lab. "One way of describing that is LUX saw nothing better than anyone else, has seen nothing before." 

READ MORE: Men found dead in apparent murder-suicide were acquaintances

The second phase, called the LUX-ZEPLIN, features equipment that is 100 times more sensitive and 20 times larger than the original LUX. With the larger size, the experiment is more susceptible to outside radiation, adding to the importance of the underground facility.

Below is a photo of the original LUX.

With increased sensitivity, background noise becomes the neutrino particle, a particle discovered more than 70 years ago. Scientists are looking for an antiparticle of the same neutrino particle. This is part of Sanford Lab's MAJORANA experiment, discussed in part one of NewsCenter1's series Sanford Lab: Discovering Science.

"Early on, even finding a neutrino was a big deal," Heise said. now they are the noise in the dark matter experiment detectors," said Heise

The discovery of dark matter is a key component in understanding space physics and the matter around us.

"We know some type of matter exists in the universe,” explained Heise. “The rotation speeds of galaxies is such that we can't explain that high rate of speed, given the mass that we can see. So there has got to be something else holding the universe together, the galaxies together. And that something, we think, is dark matter."

Scientists have never seen dark matter with their own eyes. The detectors instead are looking for something proven to exist - weakly interacting massive particles (WIMP). The key to the experiment is that WIMP's interaction is weak with other particles.

READ MORE: Regional Hospital ranks in top five percent for clinical excellence

"If it does interact weakly, then there is a special class of particles that we haven't seen yet,” Heise said. “These special class of particles might have the right mass and have the right interaction strength to be the dark matter and also satisfy some other theories that are out there for particle physics."

Heise said knowledge of how dark matter works, could lead to limitless possibilities in the future.

"Only 5 percent of the universe is the energy that is in matter like tables, chairs, stars, and planets. We have a whole Periodic Table. We have a number of different forces. We don't know anything about the dark matter sector. There is five times more dark matter in the universe than normal matter. Who knows what we will find? There could be a Periodic Table of dark matter. There could be new force that we can explore and exploit."

Construction is now in full swing, but significant results from the LUX-ZEPLIN experiment could still be years away.

"Out in the next building, we have a radon suppression system that is due any day,” said David Taylor, a senior project engineer at Sanford Lab. “It should be also installed by the end of May. So we will spend a few months commissioning it, making sure everything works right, because the first piece of big hardware for the experiment is due in the fall."

Once constructed on the surface, the LUX-ZEPLIN will be transported to the Yates Shaft and lowered down into the Davis Campus, nearly a mile below the surface, where is it will reside through the length on the experiment.

All three parts of NewsCenter1's Sanford Lab: Discovering Science will be posted here.

Today's Forecast