Brown physicist Rick Gaitskell co-directs a major new national effort to detect the mysterious particles that make up most of the mass in the universe. He and a team of seven Brown researchers and staff will mark an important milestone on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, when the experiment’s underground laboratory in South Dakota is dedicated.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, the site of the world’s most sensitive dark matter detector will be dedicated 4,850 feet underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in the Homestake Mine in South Dakota. The detector — a titanium thermal bottle the size of a phone booth — is designed to detect the weakly interacting massive particles — WIMPs — that physicists believe may make up a majority of the mass of the universe. Filled with ultra-chilled Xenon and equipped with sensitive light detectors, the LUX (Large Underground Xenon) instrument offers the best chance yet of spotting the signature effects of a WIMP striking a Xenon nucleus.

The multi-institutional effort is co-led by Rick Gaitskell, professor of physics at Brown University, and Tom Shutt, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University.

“LUX represents a major step forward in our quest to directly detect the dark matter particles which are likely the dominant form of matter in our Universe,” Gaitskell said. “After two years of construction and testing of LUX at the surface facility at Sanford Lab (South Dakota), we now eagerly anticipate moving the detector into the new deep underground laboratory area and turning it on in 2012. Results should come very quickly. After only four days of running LUX underground, we expect it to surpass the sensitivity of all previous dark matter direct search experiments. If particle dark matter is present in our galaxy LUX will have a significant opportunity to detect it.”

Rick Gaitskell

Rick Gaitskell of Brown University is the co-spokesperson for the LUX dark matter experiment. He was a founding principal investigator of the experiment in 2007. LUX is the latest venture in his 23-year career, working at underground laboratories, looking for particle dark matter. Gaitskell started this work at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and then continued it at Berkeley, Stanford, University College London, and now at Brown University. He is chair of DURA (U.S. Deep Underground Research Association) and a fellow of the American Physical Society. In 2003 he received an Outstanding Junior Investigator award from the Department of Energy.

Rick Gaitskell is available to press at 401-996-3799 or by e-mail to Richard_Gaitskell at brown dot edu

The Brown University team

Simon Fiorucci, senior research scientist; Monica Pangilinan, postdoctoral researcher; Jeremy Chapman, graduate student; Carlos Hernandez Faham, graduate student; David Malling, graduate student; James Verbus, graduate student; Andria Smith, Administrator

The Particle Astrophysics Group at Brown was a founding group of the LUX Experiment in 2007. The experiment proposed to build a new detector to look for the direct interaction of dark matter particles in a target of one-third of a ton of liquid Xenon (Xe). The Brown group had significant experience in constructing and operating liquid Xe detectors, having conducted a previous search in 2005-06 using the XENON10 experiment, which was 1/20th the size of LUX. The Brown group has direct responsibility for the LUX photomultiplier tubes and the data acquisition systems that are used to detect the scintillation light that is emitted by the Xe when a particle interaction occurs. The Brown group has a major role in the processing, analysis, and distribution of the data coming out of the detector; Brown is one of the leading institutions providing scientists to operate the LUX experiment at the Sanford Lab.

During the LUX funding stage of the experiment, Brown University provided strong encouragement and seed funding in order to make establishing LUX possible.

Grant support

The Particle Astrophysics Group at Brown University is directly supported by the Office of High Energy Physics at the Department of Energy (DOE). Construction and operation of the LUX Experiment is supported by the DOE and the National Science Foundation, as well as by support from Brown University. The Sanford Lab was constructed with funding from T. Denny Sanford and the State of South Dakota.

Related projects at Brown

From 2001 to 2007, Gaitskell and the Brown Particle Astrophysics Group were leading collaborators in the CDMS II (Cryogenic Dark Matter Search) Experiment at the Soudan Mine, Minn., and in the XENON10 Experiment at Gran Sasso National Underground Laboratory, Italy.

Contacts and sources

David Orenstein
Science News Officer
(401) 527-2525

LUX Dark Matter Experiment:
Particle Astrophysics Group: