Release type: Media Release


Stawell underground laboratory on track


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

Minister for Education and Member for Wannon Dan Tehan says scientists could start experiments to detect dark matter as early as next year, following the completion of excavation work for the underground laboratory at the Stawell Gold Mines.

The Morrison Government has contributed $5 million towards building the facility and another $35 million to establish the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics that will lead research at the lab.

Key facts:

  • The Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
  • It takes 35 to 40 minutes to drive down seven kilometres to reach the 12 metre x 10 metre entry portal into the physics lab which will have a main research hall that is 33 metres long, 10 metres wide and 12.3 metres high.
  • Explosives and heavy machinery were used to excavate the two caverns, clearing approximately 4,700 cubic metres before rock bolts and supports were installed prior to spraying shotcrete to reinforce the cavern.

Mr Tehan said building the laboratory deep underground would allow researchers to conduct experiments that rely on precise measurements using some of the world’s most sensitive scientific equipment.

“The search for dark matter is at the cutting-edge of science, involving the intersection of particle, nuclear, and quantum physics,” Mr Tehan said.

“The underground laboratory will attract world-leading scientists to Australia to conduct important research.”

Stawell Gold Mines General Manager Troy Cole said the main laboratory chamber excavation had required a high-level of engineering to ensure the longevity of the facility.

“The materials used to secure the cavern and cover the rock walls were all specially sourced to ensure the environment is suitable to host the types of experiments which will be located within the laboratory,” Mr Cole said.

University of Melbourne Professor and Director of the research centre Elisabetta Barberio said Stawell Gold Mines was a perfect location for Australian physicists to work together to find dark matter.

“We expect that in about one year from now, we will be able to fit out a high-tech laboratory,” Professor Barberio said.

“As cosmic rays cannot reach one kilometre underground, we are in an ideal location to carry out our experiments.”

The next step will be to award a contract to build the underground lab, with the tender process expected for later this year and the Stage 1B works to be undertaken in 2021.

The partners for the underground lab are the University of Melbourne, the Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Adelaide, the Australian National University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics and the Stawell Gold Mines.