An Experiment to Search for Systematic Effects in Long-Lived Radioactive Decays

Cassie A Reuter, Purdue University


Franz Zwicky first discovered “Dunkle Materie,” or “Dark Matter” over 100 years ago, when he realized galaxy clusters must consist predominately of non-luminous matter. Since then, mounting evidence, has shown that a paltry 4% of the energy density of the universe is baryonic matter. We realize that the energy density of the universe is, in fact, dominated by dark matter and dark energy. Despite the evidence for dark matter, there is a long-standing discrepancy in the interpretation of results from direct dark matter experiments. The Italian DArk MAtter project (DAMA) claims to have discovered WIMPs, a particular variety of dark matter, since 1999. However, other direct detection experiments, provide results that directly contradict DAMA’s claims. For years, the dark matter community has worked to reconcile the two opposing sets of results through improved experiments in direct detection and alternative Dark Matter models. This thesis outlines the Modulation Experiment, which is designed to identify and determine possible systematic sources of error that could explain the annually modulating signal attributed to Dark Matter by DAMA. We present a dedicated experiment for the long-term measurement of gamma emissions resulting from beta decays that provides high-quality data and allows for the identification of systematic influences. Up to 16 sources are monitored redundantly by 32 3×3” NaI(Tl) detectors in four separate setups across three continents. In each setup, monitoring of environmental and operational conditions facilitates correlation studies. The deadtime-free performance of the data acquisition system is confirmed and monitored by LED pulsers. Waveforms of all events are recorded individually, enabling a study of time-dependent effects spanning microseconds to years, using both time-binned and unbinned analyses. In this thesis, we show that the experiment is successfully acquiring data, and environmental effects are well-understood. Because of the experimental design, the Modulation Experiment is particularly well-suited to monitor decay rates of various isotopes. Though decay rates are generally considered to be Poisson processes, standards offices such as the National Institute of Standards (NIST) and Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) have reported annually modulating rates due to an unknown influence. Some scientists hypothesize that these effects may be due to a solar neutrino influence. Furthermore, some scientists have also examined a potential link from solar effects (e.g. flares and storms) to discrepancies in decay rate. However, these effects may simply be the by-products of some seasonal effects. This thesis explores the reported claims of decay rate modulation, and limits annual modulation amplitudes to < 5.95×10-5 for Ti-44, 1.46×10-4 for Co-60, and 1.8×10-4 Cs-137 at a 3σ confidence level. No additional periodicities were found to be statistically significant. The Modulation experiment is beginning to explore the true nature of the impact of systematic effects on the measured decay rate. As data continues to be collected and more setups come online, we will be able to lower statistical uncertainties on measurements the half life, measure or set further limits on time-dependent modulations and search for correlations between locations.




Lang, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Astrophysics|Nuclear physics

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