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The Silence of the Xenon

By Rachel Ewing
Office of University Communications


June 5, 2014 —  

Michelle Dolinksi 

Half a mile beneath the desert of Carlsbad, New Mexico, a once-dense tube of super-chilled liquid xenon has been drained, its contents warmed and waiting in temporary storage bottles.

Although xenon rarely does much anyway (it’s one of the famed “noble gases” that tend not to engage in chemical reactions), this batch of xenon is particularly quiet. Its purpose for being there – a massive, international scientific experiment called EXO-200 – has halted for the foreseeable future following a series of accidents at the site.

The accidents in Carlsbad, though unrelated to the EXO-200 scientific effort, have made it unsafe for researchers to access the site to monitor and maintain the experiment. While the recovery process is underway, the scientists wait, not knowing when they will be able to resume their experiments and hoped-for observations of a certain, particularly rare – perhaps impossibly so – radioactive decay of the xenon.

Michael Jewell, a senior physics major at Drexel working in the lab of EXO-200 project collaborator and Drexel assistant professor Michelle Dolinski, PhD, has worked on programming algorithms to analyze data from EXO-200, as well as spending time last year in the underground lab in New Mexico working on the detector itself while it was still up and running.


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