Dr. Kara Keeter is establishing a nuclear and particle astrophysics program at Black Hills State University that studies the very smallest particles in the universe in order to understand structures as large as stars, supernovae, and even galaxies. Two elusive particles, neutrinos and dark matter, are the current subject of intense debate and interest. In fact, national advisory committees list investigating the nature of dark matter and neutrinos among the highest priority questions in particle physics today.
Although these particles arrive at the Earth from space, they are so hard to “see” that it is necessary to place the detectors deep underground, to shield from background “noise” found on surface. SURF, (previously known as DUSEL) will be among the world’s premier locations for such research, and work has already begun at the interim Sanford Lab. Dr. Keeter is working with three collaborations of physicists from top institutions throughout the United States and the world to study neutrinos and dark matter.
The Majorana Experiment will search for a tremendously rare type of nuclear decay in germanium (76Ge) crystals. The SNO+ Experiment at the SNOLAB underground facility in Canada is measuring the same type of reactions using a thousand tons of liquid scintillator. If these reactions are detected without neutrinos (as opposed to the usual two neutrinos), this will prove that neutrinos can serve as their own antiparticles and will help determine the mass of these mysterious particles. The DArCSide Experiment will use a multi-ton container of ultra-cold liquid argon in an attempt to detect dark matter particles. As the Earth travels with the Solar System in an orbit around the Milky Way Galaxy, dark matter particles may collide with the argon atoms. An array of ultrasensitive photomultipler tubes will detect any light emitted from such a collision.
These internationally-recognized experiments have the potential to change the basic Standard Model of Particle Physics, and to forever enhance our understanding of the universe. Students at Black Hills State University have a unique opportunity to participate in this ground-breaking research.