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Life Saver candies provide clues for dark matter detection

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Researchers at Queen’s University have made progress in understanding a potential obstacle to detecting the dark matter which is thought to account for most of the matter in the universe.

Detecting the hypothetical dark matter particles that may surround us is a challenge because they represent a needle in the haystack of common particles and other backgrounds. Philippe Di Stefano (Physics) and PhD student Alexis Tantot are working to better understand the detectors used to uncover these rare particles.  Some of these detectors are scintillators, materials that emit light when a particle interacts in them.

“When you bite down on a Life Saver Wint-o-Green candy, the candy emits light. When we saw  this phenomenon, we wondered what would happen when scintillators develop cracks,” says Mr. Tantot. “Using a controlled device to create fractures, we found that the scintillators we studied react the same way.”

This discovery will help scientists looking for exotic particles like dark matter to distinguish between an actual discovery and false signals. The work may also have implications for materials science, as it provides a new way to study brittle fracture.

“We also hope this exploration will be useful in the study of materials damage and the understanding of rupture dynamics,” says Stéphanie Deschanel, an expert on fracture from Lyon, France, who participated in the work while on sabbatical at Queen’s.

This research is a joint project between the SNOLAB group at Queen’s and Université de Lyon in France.  It recently appeared in Physical Review Letters and was highlighted on October 11.