A gold mine in South Dakota, US, has been turned into an experimental laboratory which will house the Large Underground Xenon experiment, or LUX, which has been built to detect dark matter.
Dark matter has dominated experimental physics for many years, and has been described as “the mystery meat of existence”. It makes up a huge amount of the universe, but the problem is that it is so complex that scientists have not yet been able to see it.
This is what led scientists to Lead, which is a town in South Dakota which is home to Homestake Gold Mine. The mine is one of the longest running gold mines in American history, and was first used operationally in 1876. Until the late 1990s the mine still employed around 1,000 people looking for gold, but after the value dropped, it became clear that the mine’s days were numbered, and it was shut for good in 2003.
But as the proverb goes; one man’s loss is another man’s gain, which was the case for Rick Gaitskell, a scientist with Brown University who has worked alongside dozens of scientists over the past few years to move forward with the Large Underground Xenon experiment – or LUX – the world’s most sensitive dark-matter detector.
Mr Gaitskell and his team took advantage of the closure to build a laboratory nearly 5,000 feet beneath the earth which is hoped could help scientists answer some pretty heavy questions about life, its origins and the universe. He said: “This year, 2012, is going to be a very significant year because we get to turn the … detector on and know very soon whether we have actually found dark matter or not.”
Dark matter is too sensitive to detect in regular laboratories, which is why Mr Gaitskell chose to operate deep underground. The LUX detector is also submerged in water, further insulating it. After work with 70 scientists and 14 institutions over the past four years, Mr Gaitskell said he will finally make the LUX experiment a reality, with tests commencing this year.