Monday, December 21, 2009

Working Towards Extreme Science

While there is serious attention to the Large Hadron Collector (LHC) deep underground along the Swiss/French border and its renewed operations since fixing problems that began last year when it was opened, it is far from the only extreme science program underway probing the mysteries of physics.

One of the more interesting projects is taking place in Lead, South Dakota, where physicists are working in the former Homestake Gold Mine to look for dark matter. Before the mine shut down, it reached more than 8,000 feet underground. However, after the mine closed, pumps that maintained the water level were shut down, and the mine filled up to the 4,500 foot level.

A new series of pumps and filters are now making headway in lowering the water table so that the lowest reaches of the mine can be put to use by physicists looking for dark matter.

The Sanford lab is set to begin working at the 4,850 foot level to work on detecting dark matter.

If those efforts show the viability of using the former Homestake mine, the next step will be securing funding from the NSF to build the DUSEL, which would allow experiments below 8,000 feet. This is extreme science, even where other detectors are sited underground. The Soudan facility is a mere 2,263 feet underground. The increased depth helps limit cosmic rays from interfering with the experiments.

Should DUSEL go ahead, it would provide the deepest experiment platform in the world.

Of course, the former mine is no stranger to physics experiments, as it was home to a famous experiment run by physicist Ray Davis, who received a Nobel Prize for his work on neutrinos and determining their mass.

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