Alphas and Surface Backgrounds in Liquid Argon Dark Matter Detectors
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Current observations from astrophysics indicate the presence of dark matter, an invisible form of matter that makes up a large part of the mass of the universe. One of the leading theories for dark matter is that it is made up of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs). One of the ways we try to discover WIMPs is by directly detecting their interaction with regular matter. This can be done using a scintillator such as liquid argon, which gives off light when a particle interacts with it. Liquid argon (LAr) is a favorable means of detecting WIMPs because it has an inherent property that enables a technique called pulse-shape discrimination (PSD). PSD can distinguish a WIMP signal from the constant background of electromagnetic signals from other sources, like gamma rays. However, there are other background signals that PSD is not as capable of rejecting, such as those caused by alpha decays on the interior surfaces of the detector. Radioactive elements that undergo alpha decay are introduced to detector surfaces during construction by radon gas that is naturally present in the air, as well as other means. When these surface isotopes undergo alpha decay, they can produce WIMP-like signals in the detector. We present here two LAr experiments. The first (RaDOSE) discovered a property of an organic compound that led to a technique for rejecting surface alpha decays in LAr detectors with high efficiency. The second (DarkSide-50) is a dark matter experiment operated at LNGS in Italy and is the work of an international collaboration. A detailed look is given into alpha decays and surface backgrounds present in the detector, and projections are made of alpha-related backgrounds for 500 live days of data. The technique developed with RaDOSE is applied to DarkSide-50 to determine its effectiveness in practice. It is projected to suppress the surface background in DarkSide-50 by more than a factor of 1000.