Construction is progressing on a groundbreaking underground physics laboratory in Stawell that could help scientists understand the nature of dark matter.
Stawell Underground Physics Lab scientific researcher and Melbourne University Associate Professor Phillip Urquijo shared an update on the internationally significant project in Ballarat in September during a mining conference at Federation University.
Excavation for the laboratory site one kilometre deep in the Stawell Gold Mine has begun.
To be left with the question that we don't really know what 80 per cent of the universe is made of, that really drives us.Phillip Urquijio, Stawell Underground Lab researcher
Associate Professor Urquijo said the scientific team had been working closely with the Stawell Gold Mine and engineering and construction companies to ensure the laboratory construction met requirements.
He explained the construction was complex as all materials used in the build needed to have low levels of radioactivity, meaning everything must be tested before it is used.
The scientific team has also been working with research groups and local companies to build scientific instrumentation ready to be transported underground when the laboratory is complete.
Construction is expected to be complete next year.
The Stawell Underground Physics Lab will be the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere and the second in the world - the other is located in Italy.
Scientists from all over the world and Australia are part of the project, involving experts from the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, University of Adelaide, Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and Swinburne University.
The aim is to understand the nature of dark matter, which makes up 80 per cent of the mass in the universe.
The only way to study the matter is to go underground where scientists can use their detector free of interference from radioactive cosmic rays.
The project received $5 million funding from the state government and $5 million from the federal government earlier this year to complete the build.
The federal government Australian Research Council announced in August it would provide $35 million funding for the investigations.
Associate Professor Urquijo explained the investigation at the Stawell lab would analyse light emissions from particle interactions to learn about the nature of dark matter
"Dark matter makes up 80 per cent of the mass of our universe and local galaxy and it is distributed fairly evenly over the whole volume of the galaxy. We are moving very fast through the galaxy. As we move through the galaxy that dark matter that is sitting in the galaxy passes through us like a wind of 800,000km per second," he said.
"Very occasionally one of those particles is going to interact with the most sensitive element of our detector. That element is going to emit light. We capture that light with a light detector and instrument around it a whole series of systems to determine whether or not that light was from dark matter or from natural radioactivity.
"Over the course of three years we should connect enough of these events of light emissions to say something concrete about the nature of dark matter. We only require a few years to say something quite concrete. That is one of the most promising aspects of the program."
The experiments are expected to begin at the end of next year after the lab is constructed.
Associate Professor Urquijo said the discoveries could have profound impact for science.
"In fundamental science we are all curiosity driven. To be left with the question that we don't really know what 80 per cent of the universe is made of, that really drives us," he said.
"The answer may be we found one type and there may be other types out there as well that we need to keep searching for and there are other experiments to do that.
"What we can also do if we are extremely lucky and we do find it is we can then turn it into dark matter astronomy and analyse or determine where this dark matter is emerging from, so a map of the sky for dark matter.
"It is like uncovering a para world or hidden universe. It may not be as simple as finding a dark matter particle, it may be something far more rich than that."
The project is expected to deliver economic value to the region of $180.2 million in its first ten years and support nearly 80 ongoing jobs while strengthening STEM studies in the region.