Scientists on verge of major breakthrough in Stawell

Scientists could be on the verge of a major breakthrough, and the site of the Stawell Gold Mine could hold the key to the world-first discovery.

Pictured in Stawell L-R Dr Matteo Volpi, Geoffrey Taylor, Mayor Cr Kevin Erwin, chief executive officer Justine Linley, Elisabetta Barberio and David Varvel.

Pictured in Stawell L-R Dr Matteo Volpi, Geoffrey Taylor, Mayor Cr Kevin Erwin, chief executive officer Justine Linley, Elisabetta Barberio and David Varvel.

The Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics (CoEPP) is leading an international search to determine whether the site is suitable to support the detection of dark matter.

Preliminary testing has proven positive with the next one to two months critical in the organisation's efforts to conclude if construction of an underground laboratory - the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, is feasible.

Visiting Stawell last week, alongside Professor Elisabetta Barberio and Doctor Matteo Volpi for a presentation on dark matter, CoEPP Director, Professor Geoffrey Taylor said the University of Melbourne scientists involved in the study were also part of the discovery of the Higgs boson or Higgs particle in 2012.

That discovery appeared to confirm the existence of the Higgs field, which is pivotal to the Standard Model and other theories within particle physics.

"The next big question for us is what dark matter is made of?" Prof Taylor said.

"There is probably four or five times more dark matter in the universe than what there is ordinary matter, which means there is still a huge amount of the universe which we don't know anything about."

Prof Taylor said experiments to look for dark matter need to be in controlled areas which filter out natural backgrounds, cosmic rays and particles.

He said they are best carried out in the bottom of a mine and the Stawell site provides them with a lot of advantages.

"Its access, it is deep enough, has massive cavities which can be used for putting in equipment and conducting experiments," he said.

"It has a lot of interesting characteristics as well. You can actually drive down the mine, it is surrounded by good infrastructure and close to Melbourne."

Prof Taylor said there is already more than one facility of its type in the Northern Hemisphere, but none exist in the Southern Hemisphere.

"There would be many advantages from having both hemispheres looking for this material," he said.

"If this goes ahead, an experiment of this size and significance, it becomes an international talking point.

"It would be the only facility nationally, Stawell would become a world leader."

Prof Taylor said the establishment of the underground laboratory could be an inspiration for science teaching across the region.

"An underground laboratory with financial support, developed over many years would support technical skills and employment for engineers, electronics technicians, computer technicians etc.

"That it is good news for everybody - both scientists and locals."

Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin said it is exciting that Stawell could become the centre for this type of physics research.

"This is an exciting prospect not only for Stawell, but for Victoria, Australia and the Southern Hemisphere," he said.

Council's CEO Justine Linley said there is the capacity for the project to expand and take the Northern Grampians Shire into a completely different field.

"Let's reflect backwards a little bit, where the presentation was made, was right in front of the Mining and Industry banner. That's 130-years-old and is about how mining has generated a lot of technological advances," she said.

"We can see that this is going to do exactly the same thing in a different era. Part of the physics research has the ability to generate huge technological advances not just for our local economy, but more generally."

Prof Barberio said she continues to be in contact with her Italian colleagues providing them with information about measurements being taken.

She said preparations were already underway for a two-day workshop in September, with the project to commence, if given the go ahead, in early 2015.

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