Province Invests in 'Dark' Research

August 21, 2007 - News Release

An $8.7-million investment by the Ontario government will make it easier for scientists at the University of Guelph to cross over to "the dark side."

The funding, announced today by Premier Dalton McGuinty, will support the expansion of Canada's world-class astrophysics facility, SNOLAB. Researchers will work to find novel ways to view elusive dark matter particles, which they hope will help them learn new information about what the universe is made of and what holds it together.

"This is a very exciting extension for SNOLAB in looking for the next big advance in physics, namely dark matter," said Jimmy Law, a Guelph physics professor emeritus. He, along with other Guelph researchers, has been involved with the facility since its inception nearly 10 years ago.

SNOLAB is the world's deepest underground laboratory and includes a unique neutrino telescope that is the size of a 10-storey building. It’s located two kilometres beneath the earth in a nickel mine near Sudbury, Ont.

The expansion, which was initiated in 2003 by a $39-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, will allow for the construction of a cryopit, a large cavern to store the low-temperature liquids and gases needed to conduct large-scale cyrogenic experiments for the next generation of research into dark matter particles.

Dark matter is matter of unknown composition that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be observed directly. Its presence is inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.

"U of G is proud to be part of the new adventure," said Law. Other Guelph scientists involved with SNOLAB are Prof. Bernie Nickel, professor emeritus Robin Ollerhead, post-doctoral researcher Diane Reitzner and PhD student Marc Bergevin.

The U of G researchers worked on the development and construction of the facility and helped design and build SNOLAB's sophisticated instruments. Law, a nuclear physicist, also helped write and test the software used to analyze data generated by the facility. “We are part of a great team of international scientists," he said.

In total, more than 130 researchers from 14 different universities and research labs in Canada, the United States and Great Britain are involved in research at the centre.

In 2001, SNOLAB researchers gained international recognition when they solved the mystery of solar neutrinos that had baffled scientists since the early 1970s — explaining the discrepancy between the number of neutrinos observed and the number predicted by theoretical models of the sun. They found that two-thirds of the electron-type neutrinos produced by nuclear reactions in the core of the sun change to other types of neutrinos — muon and tau neutrinos — before reaching Earth.

Anthony Vannelli, dean of the College of Physical and Engineering Science, said SNOLAB is now well-positioned to move to the next phase of this international research into the basic foundations of life and matter.

"U of G and our partner Ontario universities acknowledge the timely support of the Ontario government through the Ministry of Research and Innovation," he said.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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