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Theses Doctoral

Development of Lithium-Drifted Silicon Detectors and Investigation of Cosmic Antihelium Sensitivity for the GAPS Experiment -- an Indirect Search for Dark Matter

Saffold, Nathan Arnett

Uncovering the nature of dark matter is one of the most pressing problems in 21st century cosmology. Despite overwhelming evidence that dark matter exists and vigorous experimental efforts to detect it, dark matter has evaded detection and its fundamental nature remains shrouded in mystery. Indirect dark matter detection experiments search for Standard Model byproducts of dark matter annihilation or decay. At low energies, cosmic antideuterons provide an especially clean dark matter signature, since the production of low-energy antideuterons from conventional astrophysical processes is highly suppressed.

The General Antiparticle Spectrometer (GAPS) is an Antarctic balloon experiment designed to search for low-energy cosmic antinuclei as signatures of dark matter. GAPS is optimized to detect low-energy antideuterons, as well as to provide unprecedented sensitivity to low-energy antiprotons and antihelium nuclei. GAPS uses a novel approach to detect antinuclei, based on the formation, decay, and annihilation of exotic atoms. At least three GAPS long-duration balloon (LDB) flights are planned, with the first launch date anticipated for December 2022. The core of the GAPS instrument is a particle tracker, comprised of >1000 lithium-drifted silicon (Si(Li)) detectors, that provides particle tracking and X-ray spectroscopy capabilities. In order to preserve the long-term performance of the tracker, the Si(Li) detectors require a surface passivation coating to protect against environmental contamination.

In this thesis, I cover four main areas of my research: prototype Si(Li) detector fabrication and performance evaluation; development of a surface passivation technique to ensure the long-term stability of GAPS flight detectors; calculation of the GAPS antihelium sensitivity using particle tracking; and prediction of the antihelium exotic atom X-ray energies and yields for future identification studies. I discuss the prototype fabrication work that was carried out at Columbia, which led to the successful mass-production of large-area Si(Li) detectors for the GAPS LDB flights. I report the research and development of a surface passivation method to protect the GAPS flight detectors from environmental contamination. I then describe the calibration scheme for the GAPS Si(Li) detectors, and a simulation study that I conducted to disentangle the contribution of Compton scattering and intrinsic detector performance on the observed spectra. I then move on to discuss the simulation studies used to determine the performance capabilities of GAPS. I describe the benchmarking of the hadronic annihilation products in antinucleus-nucleus annihilations in Geant4. I review the exotic atom cascade model used to determine the X-rays produced by antiprotonic and antideuteronic exotic atoms, and discuss my work extending this model to describe the de-excitation of antihelium exotic atoms. Finally, I present the first GAPS antihelium nuclei sensitivity study, based on full instrument simulation, event reconstruction, and realistic atmospheric influence simulations.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Hailey, Charles J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 27, 2021