From Sanford Underground Research Facility: “LZ assembly begins — piecing together a 10-ton detector”

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From Sanford Underground Research Facility

December 17, 2018
Erin Broberg

With main components arriving, researchers have begun the meticulous work of piecing together LUX-ZEPLIN on the 4850 Level.

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Inside the LZ water tank, assembly has begun on the Outer Cryostat Vessel. Photo by Matthew Kapust

As they peer down into the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) water tank from the work deck above, researchers and engineers can finally see the assembly process in full swing. Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Pawel Majewski focuses on the cryostat installation. He recently returned to Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) after nearly half a year away and is thrilled with what he’s seeing.

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The LZ experiment. LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) will be 30 times larger and 100 times more sensitive than its predecessor, the Large Underground Xenon experiment.

The race to build the most sensitive direct-detection dark matter experiment got a bit more competitive with the Department of Energy’s approval of a key construction milestone on Feb.9.

LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), a next-generation dark matter detector, will replace the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment. The Critical Decision 3 (CD-3) approval puts LZ on track to begin its deep-underground hunt for theoretical particles known as WIMPs in 2020.

“We got a strong endorsement to move forward quickly and to be the first to complete the next-generation dark matter detector,” said Murdock “Gil” Gilchriese, LZ project director and a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the lead lab for the project. The LZ collaboration includes approximately 220 participating scientists and engineers representing 38 institutions around the world.

The fast-moving schedule allows the U.S. to remain competitive with similar next-generation dark matter experiments planned in Italy and China.

WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) are among the top prospects for explaining dark matter, which has only been observed through its gravitational effects on galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Believed to make up nearly 80 percent of all the matter in the universe, this “missing mass” is considered to be one of the most pressing questions in particle physics.

LZ will be at least 100 times more sensitive to finding signals from dark matter particles than its predecessor, the Large Underground Xenon experiment (LUX), which was decommissed last year to make way for LZ. The new experiment will use 10 metric tons of ultra-purified liquid xenon, to tease out possible dark matter signals. Xenon, in its gas form, is one of the rarest elements in Earth’s atmosphere.

“The science is highly compelling, so it’s being pursued by physicists all over the world,” said Carter Hall, the spokesperson for the LZ collaboration and an associate professor of physics at the University of Maryland. “It’s a friendly and healthy competition, with a major discovery possibly at stake.”

A planned upgrade to the current XENON1T experiment at National Institute for Nuclear Physics’ Gran Sasso Laboratory (the XENONnT experiment) in Italy, and China’s plans to advance the work on PandaX-II, are also slated to be leading-edge underground experiments that will use liquid xenon as the medium to seek out a dark matter signal.

XENON1T at Gran Sasso LABORATORI NAZIONALI del GRAN SASSO, located in the Abruzzo region of central Italy


Gran Sasso LABORATORI NAZIONALI del GRAN SASSO, located in the Abruzzo region of central Italy

PandaX II Dark Matter experiment at Jin-ping Underground Laboratory (CJPL) in Sichuan, China

Both of these projects are expected to have a similar schedule and scale to LZ, though LZ participants are aiming to achieve a higher sensitivity to dark matter than these other contenders.

Hall noted that while WIMPs are a primary target for LZ and its competitors, LZ’s explorations into uncharted territory could lead to a variety of surprising discoveries. “People are developing all sorts of models to explain dark matter,” he said. “LZ is optimized to observe a heavy WIMP, but it’s sensitive to some less-conventional scenarios as well. It can also search for other exotic particles and rare processes.”

LZ is designed so that if a dark matter particle collides with a xenon atom, it will produce a prompt flash of light followed by a second flash of light when the electrons produced in the liquid xenon chamber drift to its top. The light pulses, picked up by a series of about 500 light-amplifying tubes lining the massive tank—over four times more than were installed in LUX—will carry the telltale fingerprint of the particles that created them.

Daniel Akerib and Thomas Shutt are leading the LZ team at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which includes an effort to purify xenon for LZ by removing krypton, an element that is typically found in trace amounts with xenon after standard refinement processes. “We have already demonstrated the purification required for LZ and are now working on ways to further purify the xenon to extend the science reach of LZ,” Akerib said.

SLAC and Berkeley Lab collaborators are also developing and testing hand-woven wire grids that draw out electrical signals produced by particle interactions in the liquid xenon tank. Full-size prototypes will be operated later this year at a SLAC test platform. “These tests are important to ensure that the grids don’t produce low-level electrical discharge when operated at high voltage, since the discharge could swamp a faint signal from dark matter,” said Shutt.

Hugh Lippincott, a Wilson Fellow at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and the physics coordinator for the LZ collaboration, said, “Alongside the effort to get the detector built and taking data as fast as we can, we’re also building up our simulation and data analysis tools so that we can understand what we’ll see when the detector turns on. We want to be ready for physics as soon as the first flash of light appears in the xenon.” Fermilab is responsible for implementing key parts of the critical system that handles, purifies, and cools the xenon.

All of the components for LZ are painstakingly measured for naturally occurring radiation levels to account for possible false signals coming from the components themselves. A dust-filtering cleanroom is being prepared for LZ’s assembly and a radon-reduction building is under construction at the South Dakota site—radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that could interfere with dark matter detection. These steps are necessary to remove background signals as much as possible.

The vessels that will surround the liquid xenon, which are the responsibility of the U.K. participants of the collaboration, are now being assembled in Italy. They will be built with the world’s most ultra-pure titanium to further reduce background noise.

To ensure unwanted particles are not misread as dark matter signals, LZ’s liquid xenon chamber will be surrounded by another liquid-filled tank and a separate array of photomultiplier tubes that can measure other particles and largely veto false signals. Brookhaven National Laboratory is handling the production of another very pure liquid, known as a scintillator fluid, that will go into this tank

The cleanrooms will be in place by June, Gilchriese said, and preparation of the cavern where LZ will be housed is underway at SURF. Onsite assembly and installation will begin in 2018, he added, and all of the xenon needed for the project has either already been delivered or is under contract. Xenon gas, which is costly to produce, is used in lighting, medical imaging and anesthesia, space-vehicle propulsion systems, and the electronics industry.

“South Dakota is proud to host the LZ experiment at SURF and to contribute 80 percent of the xenon for LZ,” said Mike Headley, executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) that oversees SURF. “Our facility work is underway and we’re on track to support LZ’s timeline.”

UK scientists, who make up about one-quarter of the LZ collaboration, are contributing hardware for most subsystems. Henrique Araújo, from Imperial College London, said, “We are looking forward to seeing everything come together after a long period of design and planning.

Kelly Hanzel, LZ project manager and a Berkeley Lab mechanical engineer, added, “We have an excellent collaboration and team of engineers who are dedicated to the science and success of the project.” The latest approval milestone, she said, “is probably the most significant step so far,” as it provides for the purchase of most of the major components in LZ’s supporting systems.

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About us.
The Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, advances our understanding of the universe by providing laboratory space deep underground, where sensitive physics experiments can be shielded from cosmic radiation. Researchers at the Sanford Lab explore some of the most challenging questions facing 21st century physics, such as the origin of matter, the nature of dark matter and the properties of neutrinos. The facility also hosts experiments in other disciplines—including geology, biology and engineering.

The Sanford Lab is located at the former Homestake gold mine, which was a physics landmark long before being converted into a dedicated science facility. Nuclear chemist Ray Davis earned a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2002 for a solar neutrino experiment he installed 4,850 feet underground in the mine.

Homestake closed in 2003, but the company donated the property to South Dakota in 2006 for use as an underground laboratory. That same year, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $70 million to the project. The South Dakota Legislature also created the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority to operate the lab. The state Legislature has committed more than $40 million in state funds to the project, and South Dakota also obtained a $10 million Community Development Block Grant to help rehabilitate the facility.

In 2007, after the National Science Foundation named Homestake as the preferred site for a proposed national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) began reopening the former gold mine.

In December 2010, the National Science Board decided not to fund further design of DUSEL. However, in 2011 the Department of Energy, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agreed to support ongoing science operations at Sanford Lab, while investigating how to use the underground research facility for other longer-term experiments. The SDSTA, which owns Sanford Lab, continues to operate the facility under that agreement with Berkeley Lab.

The first two major physics experiments at the Sanford Lab are 4,850 feet underground in an area called the Davis Campus, named for the late Ray Davis. The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment is housed in the same cavern excavated for Ray Davis’s experiment in the 1960s.
LUX/Dark matter experiment at SURFLUX/Dark matter experiment at SURF

In October 2013, after an initial run of 80 days, LUX was determined to be the most sensitive detector yet to search for dark matter—a mysterious, yet-to-be-detected substance thought to be the most prevalent matter in the universe. The Majorana Demonstrator experiment, also on the 4850 Level, is searching for a rare phenomenon called “neutrinoless double-beta decay” that could reveal whether subatomic particles called neutrinos can be their own antiparticle. Detection of neutrinoless double-beta decay could help determine why matter prevailed over antimatter. The Majorana Demonstrator experiment is adjacent to the original Davis cavern.

LUX’s mission was to scour the universe for WIMPs, vetoing all other signatures. It would continue to do just that for another three years before it was decommissioned in 2016.

In the midst of the excitement over first results, the LUX collaboration was already casting its gaze forward. Planning for a next-generation dark matter experiment at Sanford Lab was already under way. Named LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), the next-generation experiment would increase the sensitivity of LUX 100 times.

SLAC physicist Tom Shutt, a previous co-spokesperson for LUX, said one goal of the experiment was to figure out how to build an even larger detector.
“LZ will be a thousand times more sensitive than the LUX detector,” Shutt said. “It will just begin to see an irreducible background of neutrinos that may ultimately set the limit to our ability to measure dark matter.”
We celebrate five years of LUX, and look into the steps being taken toward the much larger and far more sensitive experiment.

Another major experiment, the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE)—a collaboration with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and Sanford Lab, is in the preliminary design stages. The project got a major boost last year when Congress approved and the president signed an Omnibus Appropriations bill that will fund LBNE operations through FY 2014. Called the “next frontier of particle physics,” LBNE will follow neutrinos as they travel 800 miles through the earth, from FermiLab in Batavia, Ill., to Sanford Lab.

Fermilab LBNE
LBNE

U Washington Majorana Demonstrator Experiment at SURF

The MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR will contain 40 kg of germanium; up to 30 kg will be enriched to 86% in 76Ge. The DEMONSTRATOR will be deployed deep underground in an ultra-low-background shielded environment in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, SD. The goal of the DEMONSTRATOR is to determine whether a future 1-tonne experiment can achieve a background goal of one count per tonne-year in a 4-keV region of interest around the 76Ge 0νββ Q-value at 2039 keV. MAJORANA plans to collaborate with GERDA for a future tonne-scale 76Ge 0νββ search.

LBNL LZ project at SURF, Lead, SD, USA

CASPAR at SURF


CASPAR is a low-energy particle accelerator that allows researchers to study processes that take place inside collapsing stars.

The scientists are using space in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota, to work on a project called the Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR). CASPAR uses a low-energy particle accelerator that will allow researchers to mimic nuclear fusion reactions in stars. If successful, their findings could help complete our picture of how the elements in our universe are built. “Nuclear astrophysics is about what goes on inside the star, not outside of it,” said Dan Robertson, a Notre Dame assistant research professor of astrophysics working on CASPAR. “It is not observational, but experimental. The idea is to reproduce the stellar environment, to reproduce the reactions within a star.”