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Friday, June 9, 2023

Academics & Research

UH professor to lead research on Colorado Argon Find

Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

A deposit of nearly pure argon found in Colorado could lead to medical advances and breakthroughs in the research of dark matter.

The Urania Project, funded by a $2.9 million National Science Foundation grant, will be led by UH physics professor Andrew Renshaw. He will be overseeing the U.S. part of the project, which will be working on the extraction of the underground argon from the deposit in Colorado. 

Renshaw will be working in conjunction with a team in Sardinia, Italy that will be focusing on designing a specialized plant capable of processing the raw argon. 

“The extraction of argon in Colorado is going to take place starting next year, when we have the plant fully installed,” Renshaw said. “That process will take about two years.”

Argon is the target material for dark matter experiments, the data of which will be applied across various fields of study. 

Once extracted, the argon will go to Sardinia for a final purification before it is sent to be studied using a detector they are building. The detector will collect data for at least five years, but it could take twice as long. In all, the Urania Project may last as long as thirteen years, Renshaw said.

As construction begins this summer, Renshaw will be spending time in both Colorado and Italy, overseeing the process. 

“I have students and myself post-op working on the detector itself,” Renshaw said. “Once we get the argon and the detector starts running, we will help operate it. Actually, we’ll help commission and build the whole thing, too, but we will help operate it and look at the data and release the results. We’ll be included all the way through.”

Because the argon deposit in Colorado is unique, there are high expectations on what the data may bring. 

“There are some medical imaging applications that we’re looking into, and that could really expand on what we’re already doing and bring recognition to UH in that way,” Renshaw said. “I think if we’re able to get this argon and produce this medical imaging device, that could be a big thing for us.”

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