Underground cavern ready for dark matter experiments

5 workers in the Stawell Underground Physics Lab.

The Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory, 1km underground. Photo: Olivia Gumienny, University of Melbourne.

Stage 1 of the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory (SUPL) is open today, Friday 19 August 2022. The University of Adelaide is a founding partner of the project to construct a national underground facility to study dark matter.

Professor Tony Williams, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics and Associate Director of the University of Adelaide’s Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter, helped lead the University’s involvement in the project through the planning stages and sourcing of funding.

“The newly completed laboratory one kilometre underground in an active Victorian gold mine is now ready for the next stage of the SUPL project,” he said.

“Completion of SUPL means that the flagship experiment, the Sodium Iodide with Active Background Rejection Experiment (SABRE), can now be installed. This will require that the steel vessel to house the SABRE experiment, large quantities of liquid scintillator and tonnes of ultrapure steel shielding be transported on trucks down into the mine and delivered into the laboratory.

“SABRE is one approach to discovering more about dark matter and is the primary initial motivation for the funding and construction of SUPL.”

The University of Adelaide is a founding member of the SABRE experimental collaboration. Professor Williams and his colleagues are trying to unlock the secrets of dark matter which makes up approximately 85 per cent of the matter in the universe but which we know little about.

SUPL is the first underground physics lab in the Southern Hemisphere and will also be a training environment for a new generation of scientists.

“The Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory is essential to the quest for better understanding the particle nature of dark matter. This next stage in the project takes us a step closer to answering the most important unanswered question in physics today.”Professor Tony Williams, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics and Associate Director of the University of Adelaide’s Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter,

“SUPL is essential to the quest for better understanding the particle nature of dark matter,” said Professor Williams.

“This next stage in the project takes us a step closer to answering the most important unanswered question in physics today.

“Its discovery will have the same importance and impact as the discoveries of the Higgs Boson and gravitational waves.”

SUPL is not just an underground physics laboratory. Its deep-underground and ultra-low radioactivity environment, and the spin-off technologies from its ultra-sensitive detectors are also of interest to nuclear science (ANSTO), defence (DST Group – especially in homeland security), geology and geophysics, engineering, biology and cancer research, and astrobiology (exobiology) to name a few.

The project in Stawell, Victoria, is a collaboration between six partners – led by the University of Melbourne alongside the University of Adelaide, Swinburne University of Technology, the Australian National University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

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