A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

World's deepest lab proposed in China

02/01/10

Chinese scientists have carved out a space in the heart of a mountain where a search for dark matter will soon begin. It's just the first taste of what they hope to do there: Create the world's largest, deepest underground laboratory.

 

World's deepest lab proposed in China

photo
Photo: Hesheng Chen

Chinese scientists have carved out a space in the heart of a mountain where a search for dark matter will soon begin. It's just the first taste of what they hope to do there: Create the world's largest, deepest underground laboratory.

The China JinPing Deep Underground Laboratory, or CJPL, would piggyback on a giant hydroelectric project that's under construction in a rugged, remote area of Sichuan province. Engineers are building two dams and drilling tunnels to carry road traffic and water from the Yalong River 17 kilometers straight through Jinping Mountain.

The project's two traffic tunnels caught the attention of physicists, because they offer easy access to the mountain's core. Most of the 2513 meters of overlying rock is marble, whose low level of natural radioactivity would provide ideal shielding for physics experiments. If completed, this lab would surpass the proposed 2400-meter-deep DUSEL laboratory in the United States and the current record-holder, Canada's SNOLAB, which goes down two kilometers. Chinese researchers say the lab would be open to scientists from around the world.

Proponents acknowledge that the giant lab is far from a done deal. The project will need approval from the National Development and Reform Commission, a process that could take several years, says Hesheng Chen, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing.

In the meantime, Tsinghua University scientists have excavated an initial lab space, six by six by 40 meters, with the aid of $4 million in US dollars from the university and the Chinese Ministry of Education and help from the Ertan Hydropower Development Company. They are installing detectors there and plan to start searching for dark matter by mid-2010. And they plan to apply for funding to carry out a bigger dark-matter experiment, as well as to study the feasibility of excavating the “huge cavity”—size yet to be determined—that would house the deep lab of their dreams.

Glennda Chui

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