Of Monsters and Matter

Monsters and Matter

PICO Collaboration/SNOLAB

Dark matter is sort of like the Loch Ness monster of the physics world — sure, we’ve all heard of the mythical sea creature, but have you ever seen her? Russell Neilson, PhD, assistant professor of physics at Drexel, is on a quest for proof (of dark matter, that is). Neilson is a member of the PICO collaboration, a multinational team conducting ultra-fine experiments to find just one particle of dark matter.

The team administers their experiments more than a mile underground in Ontario’s SNOLAB (pictured above), an astroparticle physics research facility located in the Vale Creighton mine. With digital cameras in tow, the scientists superheat a “target fluid” to its boiling state using the PICO-60 dark matter bubble chamber. Once the fluid bubbles, the acoustics and images captured improve the team’s ability to distinguish between dark matter particles and, well, everything else. Though still on the hunt, their latest published experiment was the closest anyone has ever come to catching a glimpse of dark matter.

“This experiment was 20 times more sensitive than all previous experiments looking for one particular class of dark matter particle,” says Neilson.

He explains that their advances will lead to even more sensitive experiments and, one day (hopefully), dark matter.

“The discovery of dark matter would resolve the mystery over what most of the universe is actually made of and could usher in a new era of discovery in particle physics,” he says.

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