Thursday, September 23, 2010

653)Scientists Race To Find Dark Matter, The Stuff That Shapes The Visible Universe, In Canadian Mine; Quotes From Blogpost Four Hundred

Chapter 21, Verse 30: Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together before We clove them asunder, and of water fashioned every thing? Will they not then believe?(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

Chapter 51, verse 47: We built the heavens with might, and We expand it wide(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

Chapter79, verse 30: And then he gave the earth an oval form(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

Chapter 86, verse 11: I swear by the reciprocating heaven.....(Noble Quran, 7th Century CE)

"The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims. Exchanges of knowledge between institutions and nations and the widening of man's intellectual horizons are essentially Islamic concepts. The Faith urges freedom of intellectual enquiry and this freedom does not mean that knowledge will lose its spiritual dimension. That dimension is indeed itself a field for intellectual enquiry. I can not illustrate this interdependence of spiritual inspiration and learning better than by recounting a dialogue between Ibn Sina, the philosopher, and Abu Said Abu -Khyar, the Sufi mystic. Ibn Sina remarked, "Whatever I know, he sees". To which Abu Said replied," Whatever I see, he knows"."(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University Inauguration Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11th 1985)

"In sum the process of creation can be said to take place at several levels. Ibda represents the initial level - one transcends history, the other creates it. The spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous, since in the Ismaili formulation, matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy. Though they require linguistic and rational categories for definition, they represent elements of a whole, and a true understanding of God must also take account of His creation. Such a synthesis is crucial to how the human intellect eventually relates to creation and how it ultimately becomes the instrument for penetrating through history the mystery of the unknowable God implied in the formulation of tawhid."(Azim Nanji, Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, U.K., 1998)

"Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

Scientists race to find dark matter in Canadian mine

Adam McDowell, National PostFriday, Sept. 3, 2010

Wherever there’s a deep hole somewhere in the world, there is a physicist down it trying to shed light on the shadowy secrets of the universe, says Nigel Smith, the director of the deepest hole physicists have yet burrowed into. Exploring the subatomic realm means plunging into the subterranean one: He fastens a light to his hard hat and prepares to head two kilometres into a nickel mine on the 8:30 a.m. cage.

For at least the past 15 years, a global race to be the first team of scientists to illuminate dark matter has consumed the field of particle physics. Canada has dug deep to gamble on being the site of that first definitive, Nobel-worthy brush with the mysterious stuff. SNOLAB, located in an active Vale Inco nickel mine deep underground, near Sudbury, Ont., is the world’s deepest underground laboratory, and thus the one that’s most shielded from distracting cosmic radiation.

Here, various competing experiment teams are vying to be the first to see the blip of an elusive dark matter particle registering on their instruments.

“You’re looking for something that we don’t know is there. We don’t know for a fact that dark matter exists, but there’s very good circumstantial evidence for it,” says Fraser Duncan, SNOLAB’s associate director.

“That’s why a lot of us are putting a lot of effort into looking for it.”

“Canada has put itself firmly at the forefront of this research. That’s why I’m here,” says Dr. Smith, who moved here from England last year to run SNOLAB.

But setting up clean, radiation-limited lab space down a dirty mine is even harder than it sounds.
Fear of a speck of the wrong material in the wrong place drives the process. The sweat from a human finger touching the apparatus, just once, could contain enough naturally radioactive potassium to necessitate a decommissioning of the 12-metre-wide acrylic sphere at its centre — into which tens of millions in research funds have been sunk. And yet in one corridor, a pit is being dustily dug next to sensitive equipment, the two separated by tarps. “We’re mining inside a clean room,” Dr. Smith grins.

Sixty-five million dollars in government funding having been spent expanding the facility over the past six years, experiments are either running now or planned for the next few years. There’s more building on site, and applications for more experiments.

The cool, carefully controlled air of SNOLAB is hot with competition because the identity of dark matter has for years been the burning question at the nexus of particle physics, astronomy and cosmology. Dark matter could hold the answer to whether the universe will expand forever or eventually collapse in a Big Crunch.

The Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border may hog most of the glamour for now, but a flurry of headlines, not to mention accolades for the researchers, would likely greet any announcement of dark matter evidence. The facilities play complementary roles in the ongoing quest to understand the universe on its smallest and largest scales.

“We’re attacking the problem from different perspectives,” Dr. Smith says, “but the results all focus in on the same problem. That’s why this is such an exciting time in physics.”

In Sudbury, reaching the possible site of that hoped-for eureka moment involves stepping into the creaky, dark miners’ cage, or elevator, and descending 6,800 feet beneath the surface (slightly more than two kilometres; for comparison’s sake, the famous Inco Superstack in Sudbury — the tallest smokestack in the Western hemisphere — stands 380 meters tall, or 1,247 feet).

From there it’s a walk through a muddy tunnel that Vale Inco has more or less tapped out for mining purposes. Called a drift, it stretches two kilometres before one reaches the front door of the laboratory. Then one begins the careful ablution process required to help keep the 5,000-square metre facility clean.

The 40 or so physicists, technicians and support staff working here make that journey each day on foot. Everything in the laboratory, from super-sensitive pucks of germanium to a crane capable of lifting 10,000 kilograms, must be brought via the cage — piece by piece if necessary — or hooked to the bottom of it. There is no other way in. It’s a ship-in-a-bottle problem, Dr. Smith says, except the neck of the bottle is 2,000 metres long and irregular. Mock-ups the same size and shape as pieces of lab equipment make test runs through the drift to make sure the real thing will fit; leaned against one wall is “Duncan’s donut,” a wooden ring about three metres wide and named for the associate director.

Researchers and technicians scurry to and fro; with three different experiments actively being set up, these are busy days for SNOLAB. Soon the window for visitors will close. Slipping on the standard-issue blue pyjama-like jumpsuit and hair net, Dr. Duncan says, “For the first time we’re starting to have a real sense of competing experiments.”

For physicists, the existence of dark matter is plain as day on a blackboard of calculations, but has so far proven stubbornly challenging to spot in real life.

Swiss physicist Fritz Zwicky proposed the existence of dark matter in 1934 after he observed that galaxies spin faster than one would expect, given the matter that is actually detectable. Dark matter does not emit, reflect or absorb light, making it difficult to observe. It comprises around a quarter of the mass in the universe and physicists believe it passes through the Earth all the time. Yet it remains extremely difficult to detect in a world where radiation is everywhere you look, and the chances of a measurable interaction are mind-bogglingly low.

“Dark matter is what causes large-scale structure and evolution of the universe. Normal matter would not have been able to coalesce into stars and planets if dark matter hadn’t been there to guide the process,” Dr. Duncan explains.

“Luminous matter that makes up us — the Earth, the galaxies, other planets — is thought to be the afterthought.”

Dark matter particles are presumed to have mass and gravitational properties, allowing them to act as a glue to mould ordinary matter into planets to galaxies. No one is sure exactly what this dark matter is, but the leading candidate are weakly interacting massive particles — or WIMPs, in the tradition of cute acronyms in physics.

Given the uncertainty about WIMPs, no one is sure of the ideal method of catching up with this scientific Road Runner. The hunt has spawned a variety of snare techniques to make Wile E.

Coyote proud. The common concept behind all of them is to isolate a “target” material, protect it from stray neutrons and radiation, and watch for a rare bump with a WIMP.

SNOLAB’s advantage lies in its depth beneath the Earth, which shields experiments from interference the cosmic rays that bombard the surface at all times. These rays are “noisier” than the subtle effects of WIMPs; Dr. Duncan likens SNOLAB experiments to seeking a quiet forum away from a concert in order to listen to a whisper. Down here, the effect of muon flux, a kind of cosmic radiation, is some 10 million times less than on the surface.

The trick is to be watching and taking measurements on one of the rare occasions when a WIMP makes an interaction with mundane matter. In the example of the Canadian PICASSO experiment, the hope is that WIMPs will collide with superheated bubbles of a carbon-fluoride molecule, bursting them with a distinctive pop audible to sensitive piezoelectronic sound sensors.
Rather than a single breakthrough event, SNOLAB’s director envisions a series of detections that begin to confirm one another.

“The first time you start seeing something, it’s going to be hints of signal. It’s actually easier of course if you don’t see something, because you know you haven’t seen something. If you do see something in your detector, then you need to worry about whether it’s a dark matter particle or a background particle you’ve not rejected or not shielded or protected against,” Dr. Smith says.
“When people start seeing consistent pictures of these particles coming out, then you know that you’re honing in. It’s going to be competitive.”

And wouldn’t it be nice if both the initial spark and the confirmatory follow-ups that led to a first scientific paper on dark matter were to come from Canada’s SNOLAB? “That’s what we’re aiming for,” Dr. Smith murmurs as he sits on a bench in the lunchroom, mid-coffee.

The more experiments that are set up at SNOLAB, the greater the chance of Sudbury being the site of a great leap forward for particle physics.

SNOLAB already has one large underground pit for large-scale apparatus. That was built for the original SNO experiment that, rather than dark matter, searched for solar neutrinos. Two more large pits are at different stages of construction. The “cube hall” will house two large silos for experiments while the “cryopit” has been roughed out, but without a particular experiment being chosen for it yet.

The funding and engineering processes for dark matter and neutrino experiments take years, so it’s best to get going early. However, the basic concepts behind the experiments are driven by physicists’ inspiration. “You can do it on the back of a napkin in an afternoon,” Dr. Smith says.
Meanwhile, to raise the probability of a WIMP bouncing off a particle of ordinary matter, scientists have made their detectors bigger, by factors of 10 or more per phase of their projects. Quite simply, the more matter there is for a WIMP to crash into, the greater the chances of a collision. Hence the need for room to grow.

Whatever the right technique or combination of techniques for WIMP-hunting turns out to be, Dr. Duncan says, “There’s certainly the strong possibility that Sudbury can discover these things. It’s absolutely safe to say that SNOLAB is at the forefront of this very competitive field. The facility we have is the best operational facility for doing this physics.”

Similar but shallower facilities exist in Japan, Russia, China, Europe and the United States. The competing, and larger, Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy, located underneath an average 1.4 kilometres of rock, is reckoned to offer the equivalent of 4,000 metres of water to shield experiments from cosmic rays. SNOLAB is rated at 6,100 metres, or more than 50% more.
In 2008, a team working at Gran Sasso observed what it claimed were brushes with dark matter. Some physicists have called that result a false alarm, and the observations remain unpublished.

“My view is if something’s not published, it’s a blog,” Dr. Smith says.

Since then, Sudbury has become a particle physics hot spot as experiments move in to SNOLAB.
Last month, the U.S.-based Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) team announced it was seeking funding to move its hockey puck-sized germanium crystals to Canada and set up at SNOLAB.

“Sometimes it’s summed up that we’re the best in the world at seeing nothing,” said Richard Schnee, a Syracuse University physics professor who acts as principal investigator on the CDMS project, in an interview last month. The project’s next phase, should it be funded, would seek to listen for dark matter with a detector 100 times more sensitive.

On Wednesday, the team behind another U.S.-led experiment, COUPP (for Chicagoland Observatory for Underground Particle Physics) switched on a four-kilogram detector. Twenty-three-year-old PhD candidate Alan Robinson, originally from Vancouver, looks forward to a physics career during interesting times.

“There’s lots of opportunities out there, especially at the moment,” he says as colleagues cover the apparatus with insulation. “And there’s nothing like particle physics for getting your hands dirty, and for getting your thinking on.”

SNOLAB was proposed before Mr. Robinson was born, and actually predates the frenzy of research into dark matter. A group of five Canadian universities collaborated to start building the facility in the early 1990s as the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a specialized centre for research into neutrinos, particles that probably have nothing to do with dark matter. Excavation to expand the facility has been ongoing since 2004.

“We evolved from an experiment that needed a specialized underground laboratory to a much larger underground laboratory that is designed to house several experiments simultaneously,” Dr. Duncan says.

SNOLAB was already the site of a major breakthrough. Neutrinos are elementary particles of extremely low mass that are difficult to detect. For decades, physicists were puzzled by the fact that the sun seemed to give off fewer neutrinos than the modelling had predicted. In 2001 an international team of scientists led by former SNOLAB director Arthur McDonald announced SNO project results that led to a new understanding of neutrinos, “solving” what was known as the solar neutrino problem.

The neutrino experiments here form part of SNEWS, a worldwide distant early warning system for supernovae. When a star explodes, the neutrinos escape the blast before light does, and so reach the Earth first. The hope is that the next time a star goes nova, neutrino detectors somewhere on Earth will alert telescope operators with enough warning to turn their gaze to the right part of space in time to take the first pictures of the start of such a cataclysm to be seen by human eyes.

In the meantime, to tour SNOLAB is to listen to a litany of worries over radiation and dust. It takes thousands of person-hours of work to transform each section of corridor from hot, dry, muddy mine into clean, cool, slightly moist laboratory space.

The nitpicky obsession with cleanness extends to the properties of everything that comes inside the airlock system — even before it arrives: Pucks of germanium for dark matter experiments are shipped here, not flown, because to elevate them into the stratosphere would indelibly mark them with cosmic rays.

The greatest worry is that a mistake could invalidate or call into question any breakthroughs logged here. The crucial task is knowing one’s detector and its environment inside and out.
“Really most of the problem is understanding your detector so you can make your calibrations,” Dr. Duncan says.

“That’s essential for the credibility of any result,” Dr. Smith agrees. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Easy Nash

In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God: Aga Khan IV(2008)
The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims: Aga Khan IV(1985)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)