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A G/NARRLI Effort: Measuring the Ionization Yield of Low-Energy Nuclear Recoils in Liquid Argon


Liquid argon has long been used for particle detection due to its attractive drift properties, ample abundance, and reasonable density. The response of liquid argon to low-energy (100-10,000 eV) interactions is, however, largely unexplored. Weakly interacting massive particles such as neutrinos and hypothetical dark-matter particles (WIMPs) are predicted to coherently scatter on atomic nuclei, leaving only an isolated low-energy nuclear recoil as evidence. The response of liquid argon to low-energy nuclear recoils must be studied to determine the sensitivity of liquid argon based detectors to these unobserved interactions. Detectors sensitive to coherent neutrino-nucleus scattering may be used to monitor nuclear reactors from a distance, to detect neutrinos from supernova, and to test the predicted behavior of neutrinos. Additionally, direct detection of hypothetical weakly interacting dark matter would be a large step toward understanding the substance that accounts for nearly 27% of the universe. In this dissertation I discuss a small dual-phase (liquid-gas) argon proportional scintillation counter built to study the low-energy regime and several novel calibration and characterization techniques developed to study the response of liquid argon to low-energy (100-10,000 eV) interactions.

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