A Journey into Excellence, INFN Gran Sasso National Laboratory. Part III
We continue our tour of the Gran Sasso Laboratory, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. After becoming acquainted with the place and meeting some of the people who work here, it is now time to learn about the experiments.
A vast warehouse of ideas and technologies
Accompanied by Augusto Goretti, we explore the three huge experimental halls of the facility, each with an area of about 2,000 square metres. These halls – which currently host about 15 experiments – look like a vast warehouse in which large containers are stored. The only indication that very sophisticated instruments are hidden inside these huge containers is the presence of complex systems and a few explanatory panels.
We walk past the LVD, able to detect neutrinos emitted by supernovae, designed by physicist Antonino Zichichi, former INFN President, who conceived the idea – almost forty years ago – of providing INFN with this underground laboratory.
We then stop to look at BOREXINO, which studies the way neutrinos coming from the Sun are produced. Considered one of the main achievements in physics in 2014, according to the journal Physics World, this experiment has made it possible for the first time to measure solar energy at the very moment of its generation.
From dark matter to the nature of stars
But it is not just neutrinos here. The main topics of the experiments carried out at the Laboratory range from the nature of stars to the origin of the Universe, to the nature of dark matter.
The study of nuclear fusion reactions, for example, is the aim of LUNA, a powerful particle accelerator able to reproduce what happens deep in the heart of stars.
Another important focus of various experiments carried out here is dark matter, the existence of which has been confirmed by decades of astrophysical observations. Discovering the nature of this relevant portion of matter is one of the great questions in physics which scientists are trying to answer.
This challenge has been taken up, for example, by XENON, a large liquid xenon detector, first outpost for the search for possible collisions between atomic nuclei and WIMPs, the hypothetical weakly interacting particles which could make up dark matter. Another important research programme in this field is DarkSide, a new concept of ultrapure argon-based detector which uses highly innovative technologies.
Finally, DAMA, another experiment active at the Laboratory, has identified the only signal in the world that could be ascribed to dark matter.
(End of Part III…)