Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

Rafael F. Lang

Committee Chair

Rafael F. Lang

Committee Member 1

Dimitrios Giannios

Committee Member 2

Matthew Jones

Committee Member 3

Matthew L. Lister


The direct detection dark matter experiment XENON1T became operational in early 2016, heralding the era of tonne-scale dark matter detectors. Direct detection experiments typically search for elastic scatters of dark matter particles off target nuclei. XENON1T's larger xenon target provides the advantage of stronger dark matter signals and lower background rates compared to its predecessors, XENON10 and XENON100; but, at the same time, calibration of the detector's response to backgrounds with traditional external sources becomes exceedingly more difficult.

A 220Rn source is deployed on the XENON100 dark matter detector in order to address the challenges in calibration of tonne-scale liquid noble element detectors. I show that the subsequent 212Pb beta emission can be used for low-energy electronic recoil calibration in searches for dark matter. The isotope spreads throughout the entire active region of the detector, and its activity naturally decays below background level within a week after the source is closed. I find no increase in the activity of the troublesome 222Rn background after calibration. Alpha emitters are also distributed throughout the detector and facilitate calibration of its response to 222Rn. Using the delayed coincidence of 220Rn/216Po, I map for the first time the convective motion of particles in the XENON100 detector. Additionally, I make a competitive measurement of the half-life of 212Po, t1/2=293.9±(1.0)stat±(0.6)ns.

In contrast to the elastic scattering of dark matter particles off nuclei, I explore inelastic scattering where the nucleus is excited to a low-lying state of 10-100 keV, with a subsequent prompt de-excitation. I use the inelastic structure factors for the odd-mass xenon isotopes based on state-of-the-art large-scale shell-model calculations with chiral effective field theory WIMP-nucleon currents, finding that the inelastic channel is comparable to or can dominate the elastic channel for momentum transfers around 150 MeV. I calculate the inelastic recoil spectra in the standard halo model, compare these to the elastic case, and discuss the expected signatures in a xenon detector, along with implications for existing and future experiments. The combined information from elastic and inelastic scattering will allow for the determination of the dominant interaction channel within one experiment. In addition, the two channels probe different regions of the dark matter velocity distribution and can provide insight into the dark halo structure. The allowed recoil energy domain and the recoil energy at which the integrated inelastic rates start to dominate the elastic channel depend on the mass of the dark matter particle, thus providing a potential handle to constrain its mass.

Similarly, now that liquid xenon detectors have reached the tonne scale, they have sensitivity to all flavors of supernova neutrinos via coherent elastic neutrino-nucleus scattering. I consider for the first time a realistic detector model to simulate the expected supernova neutrino signal for different progenitor masses and nuclear equations of state in existing and upcoming dual-phase liquid xenon experiments. I show that the proportional scintillation signal (S2) of a dual-phase detector allows for a clear observation of the neutrino signal and guarantees a particularly low energy threshold, while the backgrounds are rendered negligible during the supernova burst. XENON1T (XENONnT and LZ; DARWIN) experiments will be sensitive to a supernova burst up to 25 (35; 65) kpc from Earth at a significance of more than 5 sigma, observing approximately 35 (123; 704) events from a 27 Solar mass supernova progenitor at 10 kpc. Moreover, it will be possible to measure the average neutrino energy of all flavors, to constrain the total explosion energy, and to reconstruct the supernova neutrino light curve. My results suggest that a large xenon detector such as DARWIN will be competitive with dedicated neutrino telescopes, while providing complementary information that is not otherwise accessible.

Included in

Physics Commons