Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Richard W. Schnee

Subject Categories

Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Direct dark matter detection experiments usually have excellent capability to distinguish nuclear recoils, expected interactions with Weakly Interacting Massive Particle (WIMP) dark matter, and electronic recoils, so that they can efficiently reject background events such as gamma-rays and charged particles. However, both WIMPs and neutrons can induce nuclear recoils. Neutrons are then the most crucial background for direct dark matter detection. It is important to understand and account for all sources of neutron backgrounds when claiming a discovery of dark matter detection or reporting limits on the WIMP-nucleon cross section. One type of neutron background that is not well understood is the cosmogenic neutrons from muons interacting with the underground cavern rock and materials surrounding a dark matter detector.

The Neutron Multiplicity Meter (NMM) is a water Cherenkov detector capable of measuring the cosmogenic neutron flux at the Soudan Underground Laboratory, which has an overburden of 2090 meters water equivalent. The NMM consists of two 2.2-tonne gadolinium-doped water tanks situated atop a 20-tonne lead target. It detects a high-energy (> ~ 50 MeV) neutron via moderation and capture of the multiple secondary neutrons released when the former interacts in the lead target. The multiplicity of secondary neutrons for the high-energy neutron provides a benchmark for comparison to the current Monte Carlo predictions. Combining with the Monte Carlo simulation, the muon-induced high-energy neutron flux above 50 MeV is measured to be (1.3 ± 0.2) × 10^{−9} cm^{−2}s^{−1}, in reasonable agreement with the model prediction. The measured multiplicity spectrum agrees well with that of Monte Carlo simulation for multiplicity below 10, but shows an excess of approximately a factor of three over Monte Carlo prediction for multiplicities ~ 10 - 20.

In an effort to reduce neutron backgrounds for the dark matter experiment SuperCDMS SNOLAB, an active neutron veto was developed. It is estimated that the current design of the neutron veto with a 40 cm thick layer of boron-doped liquid scintillator can achieve a >90% efficiency for tagging the single-scatter neutrons. In addition, a one-quarter scale prototype detector for neutron veto has been built and tested.


Open Access