Program gives students unique experience

Talk about a great summer gig. For 10 weeks, Dana Harvey learned all about modern research methods and tools through a National Science Foundation (NSF) program: Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). 

“I got to see what it is like to really work in a lab,” said Harvey, a physics major at Davidson College in North Carolina. “It was a great experience. I learned a lot and got to do some cool research.” Harvey was one of six students who participated in this year’s program. The students each worked with...

kISMET taps into vast heat resources

On the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab, scientists with kISMET (permeability (k) and Induced Seismicity Management for Energy Technologies) drilled and cored five 50-meter deep boreholes. Led by Curtis Oldenburg and Patrick Dobson of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the team is trying to better understand the relationship between the rock fabric and fracturing as a way to tap into and use the earth’s heat as an energy resource.

“We hope to develop permeability enhancement techniques that can improve our ability to...

Study improves blasting designs

The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and associated Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE) will include constructing facilities above and below ground at Sanford Lab in Lead, S.D., and Fermilab in Batavia, Ill. But it is on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab that construction could have the greatest impact on current experiments. 

Work at Sanford Lab includes excavating three large caverns on the 4850 Level: two that will house neutrino detectors filled with 70,000 tons of liquid argon, and one that will...

Testing the sensitivity of memory cells

Particle physics researchers go deep underground to escape the constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that creates background “noise” in their sensitive experiments. And what’s good for particle physics, it turns out, is also good for programmable memory cells.

ilinx is one of the world’s leading providers of semi- conductor devices called eld programmable gate arrays (FPGA). Based around a matrix of con gurable logic blocks (CLBs) connected through programmable interconnects, FPGAs are designed and built...

Beamline requires precision measurements

Scientists with the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) hope to shed light on the mysteries of the elusive neutrino. So they’ll aim a beam of neutrinos straight through the earth from Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., to detectors on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab in Lead, S.D. To get the best signal, the center of the beam needs to hit the detectors head on—and that’s where things get a little tricky. 

Neutrinos are among the most abundant particles in the universe, but they have no charge so they can’t be...

It’s a star stuffed Neutrino Day

July 4, 2016
David Vardiman, geotechnical project engineer at Sanford Lab, engages with Neutrino Day visitors about the geology of the northern Black Hills and the transition from mining to excavating rock for large science experiments.

Sanford Lab’s Neutrino Day 2016 celebrated the star stuff in all of us through activities, presentations, an art competition and displays. Presentations and videoconferences ranged from the NASA 2030 Mars Experience, to dark matter, to neutrinos, to the composition of the universe. 

Manuel Brother’s Park was filled with children doing hands-on science activities. Esther Mandy, a 7-year-old visiting Neutrino Day for the first time, said her favorite part of the day was: “how people study artifacts.” Although Esther said her favorite thing about science is stars, she loves all “sciency-stuff.” 

At the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, David Vardiman, geotechnical project engineer at Sanford Lab, gave a geology demonstration that drew children and adults alike. Vardiman focused on the differences between mining for gold and building large caverns for big science experiments. “The response from children was amazing,” he said. “They loved seeing the fossils, gold samples and geotechnical cores. That was really the highlight of the demonstration.” 

Steve Rokusek has been a staple of Neutrino Day for several years and is one of the biggest draws, introducing children to advanced science in a way that inspires and excites. His “wild science” demonstrations included making clouds out of nitrogen and bubbles, which helps kids learn about the otherwise complicated physics of natural phenomenon.  

Jason Crusan of NASA, who gave the keynote talk Friday night and was the featured guest for South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s Science Café at the Lotus Up Café, discussed the 2030 Mission to Mars and the nitty-gritty details about NASA’s efforts to build habitats for living in space. —Continued on page 2

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Brynn Scogan, from Sioux Falls S.D., said, “I was really excited to meet him, and learn about what he’s doing to get people into space.” Crusan answered questions from the audience that focused on everything from water in space to living on the International Space Station to discovering life on Mars. 

More than 1,100 people attended Neutrino Day events, which included videoconferences from the underground with the Emergency Response Team and the CASPAR experiment (Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophyical Research), which is studying nuclear fusion in stars. 

At the Opera House, Elizabeth Worcester, member of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, or DUNE, focused her presentation on neutrinos and how DUNE and the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will search for these ghost-like particle. Dan McKinsey, co-spokesperson for the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment discussed dark matter and the next generation detector, LUX-ZEPLIN, which will replace LUX at Sanford Lab. 


LUX, now with more sensitivity

December 1, 2015
Photomultiplier tubes can pick up the tiniest bursts of lights when a particle interacts with xenon atoms.

The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment, located on Sanford Lab’s 4850 Level is already the most sensitive dark matter detector in the world. Now, researchers have improved the detector’s sensitivity level, dramatically increasing its ability to find WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). 

Using a new set of calibration techniques, the research re-examines data collected during LUX’s first three-month run in 2013, and helps rule out the possibility of dark matter detections at low-mass ranges where other experiments had previously reported potential detections. 

“It is vital that we continue to push the capabilities of our detector in the search for elusive dark matter particles,” said Rick Gaitskell, Professor of Physics at Brown University and co-spokesperson for the LUX experiment.

Dark matter is thought to be the dominant form of matter in the universe and WIMPs are among the leading candidates. However, they interact with other matter on very rare occasions and they have yet to be detected directly.

LUX consists of one third of a ton of liquid xenon surrounded with sensitive light detectors inside a titanium vessel. On the very rare occasions when a dark matter particle collides with a xenon atom inside the detector, the xenon atom will recoil and emit a tiny flash of light, which will be detected by light sensors. So far, LUX hasn’t detected a dark matter signal, but its exquisite sensitivity has allowed scientists to all but rule out vast mass ranges where dark matter particles might exist. 

The new calibration techniques include injecting neutrons, which act as stand-ins for dark matter particles, into the detector, then track them to learn details about the recoil. The nature of the interaction between neutrons and xenon atoms is thought to be very similar to the interaction between dark matter and xenon. “It’s just that dark matter particles interact very much more weakly—about a million-million-million-million times more weakly,” Gaitskell said. He describes it as a “giant game of pool with a neutron as the cue ball and the xenon atoms as the stripes and solids.” 

Additionally, LUX scientists injected radioactive gases into the detector to better understand its response to the deposition of small amounts of energy by struck atomic electrons. The LUX improvements allowed scientists to test additional particle models of dark matter that now can be excluded.

“And so the search continues,” said Dan McKinsey, a University of California Berkeley Physics Professor and co-spokesperson for LUX and an affiliate with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The latest run began in late 2014 and is expected to continue until June 2016. We will be very excited to see if any dark matter particles have shown themselves in the new data.”

Planning for the next-generation dark matter experiment at Sanford Lab is already underway. In late 2016, LUX will be decommissioned to make way for the much larger xenon detector of the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment, which will be filled with 10 tons of liquid xenon—three times the volume used for LUX.

“The global search for dark matter aims to answer one of the biggest questions about the makeup of our universe. We’re proud to support the LUX collaboration and congratulate them on achieving an even greater level of sensitivity,” said Mike Headley, Executive Director of the SDSTA.

The LUX collaboration is supported by the DOE and National Science Foundation (NSF). It includes 19 research universities and national laboratories in the United States, the United Kingdom and Portugal.

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