Theses Doctoral

An atom trap trace analysis (ATTA) system for measuring ultra-low contamination by krypton in xenon dark matter detectors

Yoon, Taehyun

The XENON dark matter experiment aims to detect hypothetical weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) scattering off nuclei within its liquid xenon (LXe) target. The trace 85Kr in the xenon target undergoes beta-decay with a 687 keV end point and 10.8 year halflife, which contributes background events and limits the sensitivity of the experiment. In order to achieve the desired sensitivity, the contamination by krypton is reduced to the part per trillion (ppt) level by cryogenic distillation.

The conventional methods are not well suited for measuring the krypton contamination at such a low level. In this work, we have developed an atom trap trace analysis (ATTA) device to detect the ultra-low krypton concentration in the xenon target. This project was proposed to the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) development [Aprile and Zelevinsky, 2009] and is funded by NSF and Columbia University.

The ATTA method, originally developed at Argonne National Laboratory, uses standard laser cooling and trapping techniques, and counts single trapped atoms. Since the isotopic abundance of 85Kr in nature is 1.5 × 10^-11, the 85Kr/Xe level is expected to be ~10^-23, which is beyond the capability of our method. Thus we detect the most abundant (57%) isotope 84Kr, and infer the 85Kr contamination from their known abundances. To avoid contamination by krypton, the setup is tested and optimized with 40Ar which has a similar cooling wavelength to 84Kr. Two main challenges in this experiment are to obtain a trapping efficiency high enough to detect krypton impurities at the ppt level, and to achieve the resolution to discriminate single atoms.

The device is specially designed and adjusted to meet these challenges. After achieving these criteria with argon gas, we precisely characterize the efficiency of the system using Kr-Xe mixtures with known ratios, and find that ~90 minutes are required to trap one 84Kr atom at the 1-ppt Kr/Xe contamination. This thesis describes the design, construction, and experimental results of the ATTA project at Columbia University.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Zelevinsky, Tanya
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 31, 2013