New Radioactivity Measurement Could Boost Precision of Dark Matter Experiments

A concentration of one part per billion is like a pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips—and scientists can now find radioactive particles at concentrations millions of times smaller. In the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, researchers describe successfully detecting radioactive uranium and thorium hiding among something like a million billion other atoms.

The ability to spot these tiny amounts of radioactive elements, which occur naturally in metals such as gold that are often used in laboratory instruments, could have big consequences for particle physics. Radioactive traces limit sensitivity in detectors searching for exotic particles, including those that might make up dark matter; a minuscule radioactive impurity inside a detector can be mistaken for a particle’s signature, throwing off the entire experiment.

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