Former gold mine in Australia to be used to study dark matter

August 6, 2018

Another former gold mine will be repurposed for research into the field of dark matter, this one in Australia where scientists have secured the use of the former Stawell gold mine which was at the heart of Victoria’s gold rush in the 1850s.

Like the former Homestake Mine in Leed, SD in the United States, the former mine has been choosen to conduct scientific experiements in the hunt for dark matter. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the efforts in Australia, saying the stakes are high and that a Nobel Prize could be on the line for whomever discovers the secrets of dark matter.

The Stawell gold mine was one of the sites of Victoria’s first gold rush. The site has produced more than 76 tonnes of gold since 1853. But by 2016 it was starting to run dry.

So the mine's owner, Crocodile, was casting around for a future for the mine. Meanwhile, a team of scientists led by Professor Elisabetta Barberio was hunting for the perfect spot for a dark-matter detector.

Millions of dollars in funding was secured and the world’s purest crystals started growing in vats at Princeton University. Ultra-pure metals were ordered from German factories but then a series of mergers and acquisitions of the property but everything on hold until December 2017 when, Arete Capital Partners bought the mine with hopes of reopening it – and it was keen to have the scientists on board.

Barberio came to Stawell to mine for dark matter after being part of the team that used the Large Hadron Collider to discover the Higgs Boson particle in 2012.

“After discovering the Higgs, the other big thing we need to find out is what is the universe made of,” she said.

The answer, most scientists believe, is dark matter.

About 75 percent of the total mass of the universe is made up of invisible particles that move through the universe like ghosts, scientists think. They make galaxies work.

Professor Barberio, now based at the University of Melbourne, hopes to find them using a detector made out of the purest sodium iodide-crystals ever grown.

If a dark-matter particle hits the crystal, it will light up like a spark – hopefully.

But to find a tiny signal, you need to block out all the other signals that come from the universe, such as solar radiation. So the huge crystals, thick as a wine bottle, are encased in ultra-pure copper, which is then suspended in liquid, which is then held in an ultra-pure steel casing.
Then you put the whole thing at the bottom of a mine shaft.

Later this year the steel and crystals will arrive at an old car factory on Swinburne University’s Wantirna campus, where the detector will be put together. And by early 2019, the scientists will start hunting for their ghosts.

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