Global hunt for dark matter arrives in Australia with completion of Stage 1 of Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory

PhD student Madeleine Zurowski with lead researcher Professor Elisabetta Barberio in the Stawell Underground Physics Lab.
PhD student Madeleine Zurowski with lead researcher Professor Elisabetta Barberio in the Stawell Underground Physics Lab. Image: Olivia Gumienny

Located one kilometre underground in the Stawell Gold Mine, the first dark matter laboratory in the Southern Hemisphere is preparing to join the global quest to understand the nature of dark matter and unlock the secrets of our universe.

Officially unveiled today, the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory (SUPL) will be the new epicentre of dark matter research in Australia.

Lead researcher on the project University of Melbourne Professor Elisabetta Barberio said dark matter has been eluding scientists for decades.

“We know there is much more matter in the universe than we can see,” Professor Barberio said.

“With the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory, we have the tools and location to detect this dark matter. Proving the existence of dark matter will help us understand its nature and forever change how we see the universe.”

With Stage 1 now complete, the lab is ready to host the experiment known as SABRE South to be installed over the coming months, which aims to directly detect dark matter.

SABRE South will run in conjunction with the complementary SABRE experiment taking place in Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, Italy. These experiments are designed to detect Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), one of the likely forms for dark matter particles.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at the University of Melbourne Professor James McCluskey said universities are places of deep discovery supported by global partnerships in advancing the frontiers of knowledge.

“Research which is needed to address the great unanswered questions – such as ‘what is dark matter?’ – is nearly always done in collaboration," Professor McCluskey said.

“Working with our partners and sharing our collective knowledge and expertise, the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory will facilitate experiments which are critical in the global search for dark matter.’’

The Australian and Victorian governments each gave $5 million in funding for the building of SUPL, and this funding was boosted by the Australian Research Council awarding a $35 million grant for the development of a Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics.

The laboratory was constructed by Ballarat based H. Troon, using many local contractors throughout the build.

The Stawell laboratory will be managed by SUPL Ltd., which is co-owned by the University of Melbourne, ANSTO, the Australian National University, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Adelaide.

Chair of SUPL Ltd. Dr Sue Barrell AO said the eyes of the world would soon turn to this historic Victorian town.

“Stawell sits at a junction between the SUPL partner organisations in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide. And now with the establishment of this laboratory, SUPL sits at the centre of dark matter research globally.”