Today, the University of Montreal (UdeM) and its partners are launching SNOLAB, an underground particle physics laboratory that grew out of a collaboration between the university's researchers and their colleagues at Carleton, Queen's, Alberta and Laurentian.
The lab is situated 2km beneath the surface of the Earth and will enable researchers ton answer fundamental questions about the history and the composition of the Universe. They will also be able to use the infrastructure to conduct research into the nature of supernovas, our own star – the Sun – and Earth itself. SNOLAB will indeed be at the heart of a wide range of experiments, including PICASSO, an international project that is being lead by UdeM researchers. “In terms of current and future experiments, around half about the detection of dark matter in the Universe and ‘weakly interacting massive particles' or ‘WIMPs' in particular. PICASSO is one such research project. WIMPs are in fact particules that we do not know anything about and that would be a part of what we call ‘new physics',” explained PICASSO Project Leader Professor Viktor Zacek, of the University of Montreal's Department of Physics. “In fact, the presence of dark energy and dark matter are proof that we are still very far from having completely understood physics and the world that surrounds us.”
Dark energy is at the heart of a theory that would explain various phenomena in our universe, such as the acceleration of its expansion. Dark matter is a form of matter that can currently only be observed by its gravitational effects. Astrophysicists deduct its existence by observing properties of galaxies and their distribution in the universe, but they cannot visualize it directly and its nature remains unknown.
Situated in the Vale Inco company's Creighton Mine, near Sudbury, Ontario, SNOLAB is in fact an extension of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. The research that takes place there covers the following subjects:
- Low energy solar neutrinos
- Geo-neutrinos from inside Earth
- Double beta disintegration without neutrino emission
- Particles that make up dark matter
- Neutrinos produced by supernovas
The experiments needed for research in these areas require a reduction in the background noise caused by cosmic and radio-isotopic radiation, which explains why the SNOLAB was constructed deeply underground.
Professor Zacek's experiments involve the new infrastructure. “This laboratory, specialized in neutrino physics – basic particles – and in dark matter will guide our work towards a better understanding of the Universe, of which we still know nothing about 96% of its composition. Who knows? Maybe we will be able to reconstitute the first moments of the Big Bang in an observatory 2000 metres below the Earth's surface!”