Government of Canada Invests in SNOLAB

June 18, 2009 — Facility Updates


Sudbury (Ontario) – Staff and Scientists at SNOLAB are thrilled with the funding announcement coming from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation today. The funding will provide the capital resources to build DEAP-3600 Experiment and the SNO+ Experiment as they continue their search for the elusive missing mass in the universe called ‘dark matter’ and continued studies of the properties of neutrinos.

“The successful award of these CFI funds to the projects is really great news. These experiments will deliver world class research on a variety of cutting-edge physics questions, which will keep Canada at the forefront of the underground physics field.” said Director-elect Dr. Nigel Smith. “SNOLAB is delighted to be able to host these wonderful experiments in the underground laboratories.”

Dark Matter is thought to make up about 25% of all the mass in the universe while the ordinary matter that we are made of only comprises about 5% (the remaining 70% of the universe is so called “Dark Energy”). Dark Matter is fundamental to the structure and evolution of galaxies, including our own; while it appears to have almost no interactions with ordinary matter, it does interact with gravity and that gravitational interaction shapes and holds together galaxies and even clusters of galaxies. Nobody knows exactly what the Dark Matter particles are, and there are many experiments around the world searching for it; this funding will ensure SNOLAB is at the leading edge of the effort to solve this fundamental problem in physics.

The DEAP Experiment will use liquid argon as both the target material and detection medium. It will search for dark matter particles by observing nuclear recoils when a dark matter particle collides with nucleus from an argon molecule. Using a technique called ‘pulse-shaped discrimination’ scientists can distinguish between dark matter interactions and all other interactions. Dr. Fraser Duncan, the local DEAP Principal Investigator expressed his excitement over the funding announcement : “The funding of the SNO+ and DEAP-3600 projects is excellent news. These projects are at the forefront of astro-particle physics and will allow SNOLAB to carry on the tradition of leading edge science set by the original SNO experiment.”

SNO+ is a second generation experiment using the existing infrastructure from the original SNO experiment. The acrylic vessel in the original SNO detector is going to be filled with liquid scintillator, an organic liquid much like mineral oil that gives off light when charged particles interact in it. The amount of light produced by a scintillator is much larger than the amount of light produced in water. Because of this, SNO+ will be able to study neutrinos of much lower energy than SNO could. Unlike other liquid scintillator experiments, the SNO+ liquid scintillator will contain dissolved neodymium. This will allow the SNO+ experiment to search for neutrinoless double beta decay in the 150Nd isotope. Observation of this rare process would answer an important question of whether neutrinos are their own antiparticles or not, and could help to determine the mass of the neutrino.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation is an independent corporation created by the Government of Canada to fund research infrastructure. A complete list of funded projects can be found on the CFI website.

Background information:
The SNOLAB International Underground Science Facility is situated 2 km underground in Vale-INCO’s Creighton Mine near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. The new facility was created by an expansion of the underground research areas next to the highly successful Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) experiment. The entire laboratory is operated as an ultra-clean space to limit local radioactivity. With greater depth than any other international laboratory it has the lowest background from cosmic rays providing an ideal location for measurements of rare processes that would be otherwise unobservable. Measurements are planned by a number of international collaborations that will seek Dark Matter particles left from the Big Bang and search for a rare radioactive process called neutrino-less double beta decay that could help explain the development of matter in the early Universe. Other experiments will measure neutrinos from the Sun, the Earth, watch for Supernovae in our galaxy and measure local seismic activity. The facility is operated by the SNO Institute with Canadian scientific participants from Laurentian University, Carleton University, Queen’s University, University of Montreal, University of Guelph, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia and TRIUMF laboratory.

For more information on SNOLAB contact:
Ms. Samantha Kuula
SNOLAB Outreach Specialist
Phone: (705) 692-7000 ext. 2222