CONFIDENCE that Stawell will become home to an underground physics laboratory charged with detecting dark matter, hit an all time high following a community meeting last week.
Attended by around 150 residents, the meeting was an opportunity for visiting professors from Italy, to explain the reasoning behind the search for dark matter and the concept of establishing a physics laboratory at the underground Stawell Gold Mine site. If successful, it would be the first laboratory of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Professor Antonio Masiero, Vice President of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Italy, was among members of the contingent who had undertaken a three day joint workshop at Great Western, involving both the Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics and the Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics.
Professor Stefano Ragazzi was also among the contingent, along with CoEPP Professor, Elisabetta Barberio.
Prof. Masiero said he found the experience of visiting the Stawell Gold Mines site and making presentations during the workshop at Great Western and the community meeting at Stawell, as very interesting.
He said he had learned a lot from Professor Barberio, who had visited Stawell on previous occasions.
"I talk a lot to Elisabetta about the possibility of establishing a laboratory at Stawell," he said.
“It is always different when you come to a new place, you don’t know what to expect. It was a good opportunity for us to visit the underground mine where the experiment would be located.
“The meeting tonight and the workshop in Great Western on the subject, has all been part of getting the Australian community involved.
“For us really, we are interested to see if it could be possible here and if there is local interest.”
Prof. Masiero said from his personal point of view, he was delighted to see so many young members of the community interested and enthusiastic about the project and its possibilities.
He said Stawell Gold Mines management had also been very receptive towards the project, as had the Northern Grampians Shire Council.
“We have received a very warm welcome from the mine people. They are very keen to co-operate and take part in the scientific enterprise,” he said.
“We will continue our discussions about the possibilities from a technical point of view and also in relation to the involvement of scientists and the local community. It is important for the community to appreciate their role in the project.”
Prof. Stefano Ragazzi said the establishment of a scientific laboratory at the Stawell Gold Mine site had already attracted a great deal of interest from within the community.
Of particular interest has been the possibility that an education and training facility could be incorporated into the laboratory. This would see students at the end of their secondary education, being given an opportunity to continue their studies at the laboratory.
“There has been enormous interest into why we want to do this, which is great,” he said.
“It is important to have the involvement of the local community in a project such as this. We all really need to appreciate the cultural value of a territory such as this.
“There is also the attraction side of a scientific laboratory, which can offer great cultural and tourism benefits.
“We would see the establishment of a laboratory investigating dark matter in our universe, as bringing tourism potential. It wouldn’t just be a closed laboratory.”
Prof. Ragazzi said tests at the Stawell Gold Mines site had revealed that there are similar conditions to the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy.
“This was very exciting for us to discover, as Gran Sasso has enormous tourism,” he said.
“Obviously, Gran Sasso is larger than what is going to be proposed initially here in Stawell, but the tourism potential will still be enormous.”
Gran Sasso attracts around 8000 visitors per year. With a limited number able to be shown through the facility at any given time, there are often large waiting lists.
Prof. Antonio Masiero said he was delighted with what had been achieved at Gran Sasso and he looked forward to progressing the development of a laboratory at Stawell.
“We had a lot to overcome initially, particularly the scepticism within the community, but Gran Sasso now really is accepted as a major asset,” he said.
“The population is now very much grateful for the project and we can envisage the same acceptance from the community here in Stawell.
“We have started talks about our plans, we now need to progress that further. We have the infrastructure here to transform part of the mine into a research facility.
“We will need equipment and will also need to draw on the interest of Australian physicists to make this happen.
“One of the next challenging experiments to be undertaken will be searching for dark matter, both here at Stawell and in Italy.
“We know that dark matter makes up more than 80% of the universe, so it really presents a major challenge for us. I believe it will be one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiments ever undertaken in this field.”