The DRIFT Dark Matter Project: Directionality, Sensitivity, and Environmental Backgrounds
Plank, Steven J S
It is now largely accepted that dark matter, and more specifically, Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), constitute the majority of the mass in our Universe. Within this thesis are presented: (i) an overview of the motivation and evidence for the existence of dark matter; (ii) a detailed discussion of direct detection techniques and a worldwide review of WIMP search experiments; and (iii) new experimental measurements and complementary detailed numerical simulations, carried out by the author, to determine the performance of DRIFT experimental technology. Collectively, this work explores the capability of DRIFT technology to detect dark matter, and in doing so, to resolve one of the key open questions of contemporary science. The DRIFT programme consists of an array of direct dark matter search detectors located in the Boulby mine. An important limitation to the experiment is the neutron and gamma-ray background. Experimental work presented here has determined the U and Th content of the cavern rock to be 66±6 ppb and 145±13 ppb respectively, clarifying ambiguities in previous estimations. Through the use of a Monte Carlo simulation the neutron and gamma-ray background experienced by DRIFT has been determined and the experimental implications assessed. In addition, the activity of the main neutron calibration source used to calibrate DRIFT modules has been measured and was found to be 11600 n s−1±5% on the date of exposure, resolving an earlier discrepancy. Analysis of experimental data has confirmed that the technology employed by DRIFT detectors has the capability to provide directional information of recoiling nuclei at the low energies of interest to dark matter searches. A Monte Carlo simulation has then been employed to determine the WIMP-nucleon sensitivity achievable using DRIFT detectors of the present performance, also examining what would be achievable if this was supplemented by a realistic active neutron veto detector. It is found that a CS2-filled DRIFT type detector running at a 500 NIP threshold ( 16 keV and 27 keV for C and S recoils respectively) for 300 kg years, and surrounded by the proposed veto scheme, would expect to observe a background of six un-vetoed events. The minimum positive signal above this background (90% C.L.) would correspond to a WIMP-nucleon sensitivity limit of 1.75×10−9 pb. This identifies the realistic limit of what can be achieved using gaseous CS2 as a target medium. An investigation into the limits achievable using a similar array in which DRIFT modules act as self-vetoing detectors is also examined providing insight into the future development and operation of the DRIFT programme.