Researchers prepare to build an ultrasensitive 'eye' for elusive form of matter

June 2, 2016, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Assembly of the prototype for the LZ detector’s core, known as a time projection chamber (TPC). From left: Jeremy Mock (State University of New York/Berkeley Lab), Knut Skarpaas (SLAC) and Robert Conley (SLAC). Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Prototyping of a new, ultrasensitive "eye" for dark matter is making rapid progress at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory: Researchers and engineers have installed a small-scale version of the future LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) detector to test, develop and troubleshoot various aspects of its technology.

When LZ goes online in early 2020 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, hopes are that it will detect so-called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. Many researchers believe that these hypothetical particles could make up the , the invisible substance that accounts for 85 percent of all matter in the universe.

The detector's core will be a 5-foot-tall container filled with 10 tons of . When particles pass through it and collide with a xenon atom, the xenon atom emits a flash of light and also releases electrons, which generate a second flash of light. These two consecutive light flashes could represent a characteristic WIMP signal, if all other possible origins have been ruled out.

One particular challenge is to create a strong, stable electric field across the vessel to quickly pull all electrons to the top, where they can be detected. This requires applying high voltages over short distances at the bottom and top of the xenon container. However, it also produces unwanted stray light and can cause damaging electric sparks if not done properly.

Jeremy Mock (SUNY/Berkeley Lab) during the assembly of the TPC prototype at SLAC from parts manufactured at Berkeley Lab. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

So the SLAC team is now carefully testing the design of the high-voltage system on a 20-inch-tall miniversion of the xenon vessel whose parts were manufactured by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which manages the LZ project.

"We began testing the bottom part last year and have now assembled the entire prototype," says Kimberly Palladino, an LZ scientist at SLAC and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Our goal is to reach high voltages of 100 kilovolts without sparking, demonstrate that the system runs stably over time, and reduce the stray emissions we've been observing."

SLAC research associate Tomasz Biesiadzinski says, "In addition, we use our test stand to test all kinds of aspects of LZ, including the cooling system, xenon purification and circulation, control systems and sensors. Researchers from various groups around the world come here, too, to test the equipment they are developing for the experiment."

In parallel, SLAC's team is working on a system to remove an isotope of the chemical element krypton that would cause unwanted signals in the LZ detector from commercially available xenon. The goal: Reach a level of 15 krypton atoms or less per one million billion . Once the design goal has been reached, the researchers will build a large-scale system to purify all 10 tons of needed for the experiment.

Top part of the TPC prototype. A high voltage will be applied to the metal grid to generate a strong electric field across the LZ detector. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Tomasz Biesiadzinski (left, SLAC) and Jeremy Mock (SUNY/Berkeley Lab) during the installation of the TPC prototype at SLAC’s LZ test stand. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
SLAC’s TJ Whitis at the test stand for the LZ experiment. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Explore further: SLAC gears up for dark matter hunt with LUX-ZEPLIN

More information: To learn more about the project, visit the website of SLAC's LZ team:

Related Stories

SLAC gears up for dark matter hunt with LUX-ZEPLIN

May 21, 2015

Researchers have come a step closer to building one of the world's best dark matter detectors: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently signed off on the conceptual design of the proposed LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment and ...

New results from world's most sensitive dark matter detector

December 14, 2015

The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment, which operates nearly a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has already proven itself to be the ...

Next-generation dark matter experiments get the green light

July 16, 2014

( —Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Science Foundation announced support for a suite of upcoming experiments to search for dark matter that will be many times more sensitive ...

LUX dark matter results confirmed

February 20, 2014

( —A new high-accuracy calibration of the LUX (Large Underground Xenon) dark matter detector demonstrates the experiment's sensitivity to ultra-low energy events. The new analysis strongly confirms the result that ...

Video: Hunting for the WIMPs of the universe

April 28, 2015

Dark matter is a scientific mystery. We can't see or touch it. But physicists like Dan McKinsey theorize it must exist because, without it, the universe would look quite different.

Mining for dark matter

April 23, 2008

While much of the attention in the world of high-energy physics is focused on the Large Hadron Collider nearing completion at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland, other physicists, including ...

Recommended for you

The secret to measuring the energy of an antineutrino

June 18, 2018

Scientists study tiny particles called neutrinos to learn about how our universe evolved. These particles, well-known for being tough to detect, could tell the story of how matter won out over antimatter a fraction of a second ...

Quantum transfer at the push of a button

June 15, 2018

In new quantum information technologies, fragile quantum states have to be transferred between distant quantum bits. Researchers at ETH have now realized such a quantum transmission between two solid-state qubits at the push ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2016
Well it better be able to see quantum parts then, all of them because that is what space is a quantum particle dimension, the logistical parts supply house for the construction of electrons, neutrons,protons and hydrogen atoms
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2016
Just a shot in the dark, but...
I think this experiment might go a long way in the "WIMP as dark matter" hypothesis...
On the other hand...:-) I could be wrong...:-)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.