Search for Dark Matter Goes Deep Underground

The discovery of the so-called God particle dominated the news this summer, but scientists at Case Western Reserve University have an even more elusive item in their sights: dark matter.

Dark Matter Detection Underground

The Higgs boson impresses because it is believed to be the particle that gives other particles mass. Dark matter, meanwhile, attracts interest because it may be the source of the force that holds galaxies together.

“These are two huge mysteries—dark matter and the Higgs boson,” says physicist Tom Shutt, PhD. “What we’re doing here is trying to figure out the basic components of the universe.”

Shutt and fellow Case Western Reserve faculty member Dan Akerib, PhD, are part of a 13-institution team searching for dark matter from a South Dakota gold mine. Nearly a mile beneath the Earth’s surface, the lab blocks cosmic radiation and radioactivity.

This summer, workers spent two days painstakingly lowering the world’s most sensitive dark matter detector—the Large Underground Xenon detector, called LUX for short—to the underground research center.

“We have seen evidence of dark matter but not the matter itself. We hope LUX will give us this ability,” Akerib says.

Dark matter is believed to be composed of weakly interactive massive particles, or WIMPs for short. A discovery of WIMPs would solve an 80-year-old cosmic question and provide evidence for a new state of matter that, like the Higgs boson, could show up at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

The Case Western Reserve team aims to begin data collection before year’s end.