Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter detector

The LUX dark matter detector seen here suspended in its protective water tank, before water is added.

In July 2012, a team of scientists, engineers and technicians spent two days moving a titanium vessel the size of a phone booth from a surface laboratory at the Sanford Undergeround Research Facility to a cavern nearly a mile beneath the surface of the Black Hills of South Dakota. This one-of-a-kind cylindrical container—nicknamed "the can" by its inventors—is a sophisticated vacuum thermos designed to hold ultra-pure liquid xenon, cooled to a minus 160 degrees F. The liquid xenon will bathe an array of photosensors, each capable of sensing a single photon of light.

The "can" is the core component of the Large Underground Xenon detector, or LUX, which, when fully operational, could become the most sensitive experiment yet to search for the elusive substance called dark matter.

LUX has been installed in the Davis Campus at the 4,850-foot level of the Sanford Underground Research Facility. The great depth of the Davis Campus will shield the LUX detector from the noise of cosmic radiation found on the surface of the earth. The LUX detector also has been installed in a 71,600-gallon tank of pure, deionized water, that will further protect the experiment from extraneous "noise," such as naturally occurring radiation from the surrounding rock.

In this ultra-quiet environment, LUX will search for dark matter particles dubbed "weakly interacting massive particles," or WIMPs. Thought to comprise more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe, WIMPs so far have never been directly detected. The LUX experiment could be taking data by early 2013.

The LUX international collaboration includes 17 universities and laboratories. They are:

  • Brown University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • The University of Rochester
  • Imperial College London
  • Edinburgh University
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • The University of Maryland
  • Texas A&M University
  • The University of California, Davis
  • University College London
  • LIP Coimbra, Portugal
  • The University of South Dakota
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • The University of California, Berkeley
  • The University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Yale University