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UK needs at least £3m for dark matter capital projects

UK involvement in major international dark matter experiments is unlikely to be possible without funding of more than £3 million, according to a report submitted to the science board of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

The board approved a medium-term proposal to support design-phase work towards the next generation of experiments on 6 July. The publication of the latest document on 3 September reveals the details of these proposals for the first time.

The document, produced by the STFC’s dark matter sub-group, says significant UK leadership in the next generation of dark matter experiments is feasible with £3m to £6m. With funding of up to £6m, UK researchers could lead and participate in up to two such experiments, proposals for which are under development in the United States and elsewhere in the European Union.

The dark matter sub-group’s report notes that the “race” for new dark matter experiments is already underway. Proposals for a major US call, which closes in October 2013, are expected from two competing groups: the US-Canada ‘DEAP/CLEAN’ consortium and another group called ‘LUX-ZEPLIN’, whose partners include Imperial College and the existing UK dark matter Boulby Underground Laboratory on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors.

“It’s definitely very good news for the community that STFC have decided to support this area in the medium-term,” said Dan Tovey, professor of particle physics at Sheffield university and chair of the STFC’s dark matter sub-group in an interview with Research Fortnight Today. “Hopefully that will build a good base for participation in the capital phase,” he added.

The science board said in July that its next generation dark matter strategy would be considered as part of the STFC’s current programmatic review. According to Tovey, the programmatic review is “to enable STFC to get its ducks in the line and be ready for the outcome of the [government’s] comprehensive spending review”, expected next year.