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Deepest Underground Dark-Matter Detector to Start Up in China

The PandaX project will look for dark matter in the heart of a marble mountain

3 min read
Deepest Underground Dark-Matter Detector to Start Up in China
King Under The Mountain: In the PandaX experiment, a vat of liquid xenon is stored beneath hundreds of meters of rock. With luck, the isolation will keep things quiet enough to sense signs of dark matter.
Photo: Scott Stephenson

In the heart of a mountain in China’s Sichuan province, underneath 2400 meters of stone, researchers are powering up the most ambitious effort yet to directly detect some of the strangest stuff in the universe: dark matter. Early this year, the PandaX (Particle and Astrophysical Xenon) experiment will start collecting data in hopes of finding evidence of the elusive particles, thought to constitute more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe.

Physicists first hypothesized the existence of dark matter to explain the “missing mass” problem—the fact that galaxies have a greater gravitational effect than their visible matter can explain. The current theory holds that dark matter is composed of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) that interact with ordinary matter only through gravity and the “weak force,” the extremely short-range fundamental force responsible for nuclear decay. If a WIMP bumps directly into the nucleus of an atom of ordinary matter, the theory goes, it might interact with it and cause the emission of other particles, creating visible evidence. Such interactions, however, would be incredibly rare.

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Top Tech 2023: A Special Report

These two dozen technical projects should make significant advances in the coming year

2 min read
Top Tech 2023: A Special Report
Edmon DeHaro

Each January, the editors of IEEE Spectrum offer up some predictions about technical developments we expect to be in the news over the coming year. You’ll find a couple dozen of those described in the following special report. Of course, the number of things we could have written about is far higher, so we had to be selective in picking which projects to feature. And we’re not ashamed to admit, gee-whiz appeal often shaped our choices.

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