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Dark-matter hunt gets deep

China launches world’s deepest particle-physics experiment — but it joins a crowded field.

Eugenie Samuel Reich
20 February 2013 Corrected: 21 February 2013

More than 1,000 metres underground, physicists have set traps of liquid xenon to catch their prey: hypothetical particles of dark matter that might very rarely interact with ordinary matter as they drift through Earth. With construction costs on the order of US$10 million each, such experiments are a relatively cheap way to work out the composition of 85% of the matter in the Universe. But does the world really need four of them?

Ongoing experiments in Italy, the United States and Japan are now being joined by a fourth in China, called PandaX (see ‘Dark and deep’). Installed in the deepest laboratory in the world, 2,500 metres under the marble mountain of JinPing in Sichuan province, PandaX will this year begin monitoring a tank containing 120 kilograms of xenon. The team hopes to scale the tank up to 1 tonne by 2016, which would mean that the experiment had developed more quickly than any other dark-matter search. “We want to demonstrate that world-class research in dark matter is possible in China,” says Xiangdong Ji, a physicist at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and a spokesman for PandaX.

Read more: Dark-matter hunt gets deep : Nature News & Comment.

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