A team of physicists collaborating on a major experiment at Sudbury's SNOLAB have received the science equivalent of an Oscar. (Photo courtesy of SNOLAB)

A team of physicists collaborating on a major experiment at Sudbury's SNOLAB have received the science equivalent of an Oscar.

They have been honoured for their work in trying to solve a primary mystery facing particle physics today: the nature of dark matter.

Rouven Essig (Stony Brook University), Javier Tiffenberg (Fermilab), Tomer Volansky (Tel Aviv University) and Tien-Tien Yu (University of Oregon) received the 2021 New Horizons in Physics Prize for advances in the detection of sub-GeV dark matter, especially in regards to the SENSEI experiment.

"The SENSEI collaboration is comprised of experimental and theoretical physicists working together on the cutting edge of dark matter research," SNOLAB said in a news release Tuesday.

"Dark matter, so far observed only indirectly from its influence on other objects in the universe, accounts for about 80 per cent of the matter in the universe. Detecting it directly is one of the main goals of particle physics today."

No background noise

Scientists have known of the existence of dark matter for some time, but have only been able to measure its effects, not see it or detect it directly.

The experiment at SNOLAB is using an incredibly sensitive detector which "allows for every electron within a pixel to be counted, leading to incredibly accurate measurements with no background noise."

The New Horizons awards are given to researchers who, early in their careers, have already made a substantial impact on their field of study.

“What fantastic news," SNOLAB executive director Nigel Smith said in a news release. "It’s great to see the innovative technology and dedication of the SENSEI team recognized in this way. SNOLAB is looking forward to the deployment of the SENSEI detector at SNOLAB later this year, and continuing to work with the team to search for dark matter. Well done!”

Retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, congratulated the team on Twitter:

Deep underground near Sudbury, we're getting closer to detecting dark matter. https://t.co/Was95HplrD
Congrats @SNOLABscience on the New Horizons prize! pic.twitter.com/5gpB9vVTQm

— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) October 1, 2020