A team of scientists from UCSB, headed by Harry Nelson and Michael Witherell, has been instrumental in the design, construction and filling of the sophisticated water tank that houses the LUX experiment, the most sensitive device yet to look for dark matter.
LUX is situated 4,850 feet underground at South Dakota’s Sanford Lab where few cosmic ray particles can penetrate. The detector is further protected from background radiation emanating from the surrounding rock by immersion in the tank of ultrapure water.
Dark matter is currently known only through its gravitational pull on conventional matter seen in astronomical observations. LUX, which contains more than 300 kilograms of liquid xenon, seeks to catch dark matter particles as they pass through Earth and hit xenon nuclei. This collision would cause flashes of light detectable by LUX’s 122 photomultiplier tubes.
A proposal for an experiment 20 times the size of LUX has just been submitted. This experiment, called LUX-Zeplin (LZ), would contain 7 tons of xenon inside the same 72,000-gallon tank of pure water used by LUX. The LZ collaboration has just named UCSB’s Nelson to take over as spokesman in the summer of 2014.
In addition to principle investigators Nelson and Witherell, the UCSB LUX Team includes postdoctoral scholar María del Carmen Carmona Benítez, graduate students Curt Nehrkorn and Scott Haselschwardt and engineers Susanne Kyre and Dean White.