Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

Joshua R. Klein

Abstract

The first hint that we fail to understand the nature of a large fraction of the gravitating matter in the universe came from Fritz Zwicky's measurements of the velocity distribution of the Coma cluster in 1933. Using the Virial theorem, Zwicky found that galaxies in the cluster were orbiting far too fast to remain gravitationally bound when their mass was estimated by the brightness of the visible matter. This led to the postulation that some form of non-luminous dark matter is present in galaxies comprising a large fraction of the galactic mass. The nature of this dark matter remains yet unknown over 80 years after Zwicky's measurements despite the efforts of many experiments.

Dark matter is widely believed to be a beyond the Standard Model particle which brings the dark matter problem into the realm of particle physics. Supersymmetry is one widely explored extension of the Standard model, from which particles meeting the constraints on dark matter properties can naturally arise. These particles are generically termed weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), and are a currently favored dark matter candidate.

A variety of experimental efforts are underway aimed towards direct detection of dark matter through observation of rare scattering of WIMPs in terrestrial detectors. Single phase liquid argon detectors are an appealing WIMP detection technique due to the scintillation properties of liquid argon and the scalability of the single phase approach. The MiniCLEAN dark matter detector is a single phase liquid argon scintillation scintillation detector with a 500 kg active mass. The modular design offers $4\pi$ coverage with 92 optical cassettes, each containing TPB coated acrylic and a cryogenic photomultiplier tube.

The MiniCLEAN detector has recently completed construction at SNOLAB. The detector is currently being commissioned, and will soon begin operation with the liquid argon target. Utilizing advanced pulse-shape discrimination techniques, MiniCLEAN will probe the WIMP-nucleon cross section parameter space to the level of $10^{-44}$ cm$^2$ and demonstrate the pulse-shape discrimination required for next generation experiments capable of further probing the WIMP parameter space in search of WIMP dark matter.

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