DoE and NSF Announce Support for Next-Gen Dark Matter Searches

Yesterday, the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation announced the major dark matter searches that they will be supporting for the coming years. The experiments to be supported are LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN), SuperCDMS (Cryogenic Dark Matter Search), and ADMX (Axion Dark Matter Search). Additional funding will be available for smaller R&D efforts.

My take on this is that the funding agencies have gone with the most conservative approach, supporting proven technologies and experiments based in North America.

LZ is a planned multiton dual-phase xenon TPC. It’s basically a scaled-up version of detectors like LUX and XENON-100, which have been getting some of the best WIMP search results in recent years. Currently, LUX is the most sensitive direct detection experiment for spin-independent interactions across a wide range of WIMP masses. These experiments use liquid xenon as their target material and pull electrons left from ionization into a gaseous region, where a high electic field causes electroluminescence that can be measured by photodetectors. The scintillation left from a nuclear recoil can also be measured by those detectors, giving them two energy channels to use for position and energy reconstruction and particle ID. LZ will be a continuation of the noble gas TPC program, and is expected to be constructed at the Homestake Mine in South Dakota.

SuperCDMS is a scaled-up version of CDMS, an experiment using cryogenic germanium detectors that are sensitive to both ionization and thermal excitation.Germanium detectors have less mass than the TPCs but potentially have a much lower energy threshold allowing for better sensitivity to low mass WIMPs. SuperCDMS is planned to be constructed at SNOLAB in Ontario, which has a long history of operating large experiments.

I’m not entirely sure what these choices mean for other experiments such as XENON-1ton, COUPP, DarkSide, DEAP/CLEAN. These experiments will not be getting US funding, but many of them have significant support from other countries. They’ll have to get enough non-US support to keep going. If US collaborators are unable to secure funding, it’s quite likely that some of these experiments will end up being forced to merge with others or will just shut down completely due to a lack of personnel.

DoE and NSF will continue to support ADMX, which searches for axion dark matter and is basically the only player in the axion DM field right now. This is not surprising, as it’s an easy way for the US to host a world-leading experiment. Finally, while there will continue to be funding for R&D efforts the specific groups and projects have not been announced, so it will be interesting to see what technologies are developed over the next few years.