Scientists reveal plans for largest dark matter detector in the world

While the idea of dark matter has long fascinated scientists and amateur astronomers alike, no one has ever come close to understanding it, much less detecting and containing it. However, an international physics collaboration has planned an experiment to change that.

The second generation Large Underground Xenon experiment, called the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), is being led by University of California, Santa Barbara physicists.

The team will construct the largest dark matter detector in the world at a site a below ground in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Since it was first hypothesized in 1932, dark matter has eluded characterisation. It makes up most of the matter in the universe, is void of light and affects the gravity of galaxies, but beyond that little else is known.

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Scientists have theorized that dark matter is comprised of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS). To detect dark matter, scientists will focus on finding WIMPS.

The LZ detector will contain seven tonnes of active liquid xenon, a chemical element naturally occurring in small amounts in Earth’s atmosphere.

When WIMPS collide with xenon atoms, they produce photons (light) and electrons, and these signals are precisely mapped by measuring their brightness.

However, these WIMP collisions do not happen frequently. Scientists hope that with this new, highly sensitive technology they will be able to record up to five events in three years.

“Our dream would be after about a year’s worth of data that there would be a signal of dark matter,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor Harry Nelson, the leader of the LZ collaboration. “That’s how rare a dark matter event is.”

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The assembly of the detector is no easy task, either. In addition to the liquid xenon, the outer part will contain 27 tonnes of scintillator liquid, a type of oil that becomes illuminated in the presence of neutrons and gamma rays. The detector will then be contained within a tank of water.

The experiment must be conducted deep underground to keep the detectors from exposure to cosmic rays, but radiation from the decay of elements in the detectors’ surroundings can still affect the accuracy of the results. The LZ detector will be equipped with extra layers of particle detection outside the liquid xenon to ensure reliability.

The LZ project will be funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. Equipment building could begin in 2015, based on when the funding becomes available, with experiment operations beginning in 2018.

Perhaps by LZ’s conclusion, scientists will have shed some light on the seemingly unsolvable mystery of dark matter.


First body image courtesy of Matthew Kapust, Sanford Lab, second body image courtesy of the UC Santa Barbara Current.


Steve “Woz” Wozniak to advise hologram emoji company that he calls “groundbreaking”

Apple’s co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak has found himself a new gig; Woz has joined the hologram emoji company, Mojiit, as an adviser.

In his role as advisor to Mojiit, the legendary entrepreneur and engineer will help assemble a world-class engineering team in addition to bringing investors and partnerships to the newly launched startup. Wozniak will also serve as mentor to Mojiit founder, Jeremy Greene.

“I’m thrilled to join Mojiit as an advisor,” said Wozniak. “Jeremy is a natural leader, the company is groundbreaking, it’s going to change the ecommerce space, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Created in 2017, Mojiit is the latest startup technology venture from Greene. The company’s tech essentially enables users to project and share 3D hologram emojis via smartphones.

The platform turns users into emojis by scanning their face, which can then be sent to loved ones and friends. Once a Mojiit message is received, it will map the area where it is received and place the Mojiit hologram there in real time, so it works in a similar way to Pokemon Go.

“Steve is one of the best and brilliant engineers in the entire world. But outside of that, he’s a wonderful man,” said Greene. “There isn’t anyone I’d want to be in business with more than this guy. He’s a legend. Who better to learn from than the guy who created the computer?”

Image courtesy of Nichollas Harrison. Featured image courtesy of Mojiit

In addition to consumer use, businesses of all kinds can tap into hologram emojis with Mojiit’s technology.

Mojiit investors already  include NFL alum Ed Reed, and the company was able to raise a total of $1 million in its seed round of funding.

Alongside the appointment of Woz, Entourage and Ballers producer Rob Weiss recently joined the company as a creative director.

“It’s exciting to expand beyond television and film to digital platforms,” said Weiss. “Hologram technology brings incredible opportunity to entertainment and media. I’m thrilled to be leading creative at Mojiit.”

Nanoengineers send antibiotic-delivering micromotors into the body to treat cancer-causing infection

Nanoengineers have demonstrated for the first time how “micromotors” that measure half the width of a human hair can be used to transport antibiotics through the body.

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego tested the micromotors in mice with Helicobacter pylori infections, which can also be found in about two-thirds of the world’s population and while many people will never notice any signs of its presence it can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

The mice received the micromotors – packed with a clinical dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin – orally once a day for five consecutive days.

Afterwards, nanoengineers evaluated the bacterial count in each mouse stomach and found that treatment with the micromotors was slightly more effective than when the same dose of antibiotic was given in combination with proton pump inhibitors, which also suppress gastric acid production.

Micromotors administered to the mice swam rapidly throughout the stomach while neutralising gastric acid, which can be destructive to orally administered drugs such as antibiotics and protein-based pharmaceuticals.

Because gastric acid is so destructive to traditional antibiotics drugs used to treat bacterial infections, ulcers and other diseases in the stomach are normally taken with additional substances, called proton pump inhibitors.

But when taken over longer periods or in high doses, proton pump inhibitors can cause adverse side effects including headaches, diarrhea and fatigue. In more serious cases, they can cause anxiety or depression.

The micromotors, however, have a built-in mechanism that neutralises gastric acid and effectively deliver their drug payloads in the stomach without requiring the use of proton pump inhibitors.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralisation with therapeutic action,” said Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a postdoctoral scholar in Wang’s research group at UC San Diego and a co-first author of the paper.

The nanoengineers say that while the present results are promising, this work is still at an early stage.

To test their work, the team is planning future studies to into the therapeutic performance of the micromotors in animals and humans, and will compare it with other standard therapies used to combat stomach diseases.

UC San Diego nanoengineers also plan to test different drug combinations with the micromotors to treat multiple diseases in the stomach or in different sections of the gastrointestinal tract.

Overall, the researchers say that this work opens the door to the use of synthetic motors as active delivery platforms in the treatment of diseases.

Image and video courtesy of the Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics at UC San Diego.