The CRESST experiment – the search for dark matter

According to cosmological observations, ordinary matter, of which atoms, all living beings, stars, planets and galaxies consist, accounts for only 5 percent of the total matter in the universe. A larger portion by far, around 25 percent, is made up of so-called dark matter. It is, however, not yet clear what this consists of.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is surrounded by a large accumulation of dark matter. Its enormous mass has had a crucial impact on the evolution of the galaxy.

A number of well-founded theories state

  • that dark matter consists of particles that exert gravity and
  • interacts with visible matter - albeit very weakly.

If these dark matter particles exist, it should be possible to observe them from Earth with suitable measuring devices.

Scientists working on the CRESST experiment are on the lookout for dark matter. CRESST is an acronym for “Cryogenic Rare Event Search with Superconducting Thermometers”. The experiment is being conducted by a European research collaboration headed by the Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP).

Tracking down dark matter with crystal detectors

The CRESST experiment is located in the underground laboratory below the Gran Sasso massif (Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, LNGS) in Italy. It comprises high-sensitivity detectors that react when a dark matter particle impinges on an atomic nucleus in the detector material.

Since a reaction between these particles and ordinary matter is an extremely rare event, researchers expect only a small number of observable events per year. In order to discover them with a high degree of certainty, the scientists have developed a special method.

The instruments consist of ultrapure, scintillating calcium tungstate crystals (CaWO4) whose operating temperature is at almost -273 degrees Celsius, i.e. close to absolute zero. When a dark matter particle collides with an atomic nucleus, the temperature in the crystal increases by around one millionth of a degree.

High-sensitivity sensors make all the difference

Highly sensitive thermometers in the detector measure this absolutely minute difference. In addition, the particle-particle interactions generate flashes of light in the crystal. The light particles – or photons, as they are known – are measured by a sapphire and silicon sensor.

The second signal has the important task of identifying which particle species has triggered the reaction. Signals caused by dark matter can thus be reliably distinguished from the radioactive background.

This technology is the basis for one of the most sensitive particle detectors ever built. In their search for dark matter, physicists can thereby venture into still unexplored mass regions. These properties make CRESST the top experiment in the search for particularly light particles of dark matter.

With its expertise in detector development, low-energy technology and data analysis, the MPP is playing a leading role in the CRESST research collaboration.

Further information on the CRESST group

News releases


The CRESST experiment has specialized in the search for light dark matter particles, lighter than 1 Gigaelectronvolts (1 GeV). In order to reliably measure the tiny energy released by these particles in the detectors, those must be very precisely tuned. The scientists involved in CRESST are now…

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The scientific proof of dark matter in the universe is one of the most exciting research fields in physics. The CRESST experiment in the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy is one of the institutions looking for particles that could form the “substance” for this type of matter.

For artist…

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A variety of astronomical and cosmological observations have now placed the existence of dark matter beyond dispute. However, no experiment has yet succeeded in establishing just what dark matter is made of. For many years, scientists have been seeking dark matter particles in various mass ranges.…

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A change is announced in the CRESST scientific research group (Cryogenic Rare Event Search with Superconducting Thermometers) searching for dark matter. Federica Petricca, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Physics since 2005, succeeds Franz Pröbst. The longstanding head of the group…

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The CRESST experiment is continuing its search for dark matter. A few weeks ago, the detector reached its operating temperature of around -273 degrees Celsius, i.e. close to absolute zero. For the new measurement started in September, the experiment has been fundamentally overhauled: among other…

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Stefan Schönert, Professor for Experimental Astroparticle Physics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), has been named a Max Planck Fellow at the MPP, where he will do research in the area of dark matter and neutrino physics. The Fellow Program of the Max Planck Society (MPG) has the goal of…

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Planets, stars, and galaxies form only the visible portion of the matter in the universe. Greater by far is the share accounted for by invisible "dark matter". Scientists have searched for the particles of dark matter in numerous experiments – so far, in vain. With the CRESST experiment, the search…

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Group members

E-mail address:
Phone number: +49 89 32354-extension
name function e-mail extension office
Banerjee, Heerak Postdoc banerjee 473 239
Bertolini, Anna PhD Student anbertol 327 241
Di Lorenzo, Stefano, Dr. Postdoc sdilo 316 242
Dominsky, Felix PhD Student dominsky 569 243
Fuchs, Dominik PhD Student fuchsdom 327 241
Garai, Abhijit, Dr. Postdoc garai 270 244
Hauff, Dieter Senior Scientist hauff 266 238
Langenkämper, Alexander, Dr. Postdoc langenk 270 244
Mancuso, Michele, Dr. Senior Scientist mancuso 756 238
Mauri, Beatrice, Dr. Postdoc bmauri 352 241
Petricca, Federica, Dr. Senior Scientist petricca 309 242
Pracher, Lenz Visiting Scientist pracher 218 241
Pröbst, Franz, Dr. Senior Scientist proebst 270 244
Pucci, Francesca PhD Student frapucci 218 243
Werner, Diana Secretary dwerner 364 215
Zanirato, Marco Maria Student zanirato 473 239

Key publications

Results on light dark matter particles with a low-threshold CRESST-II detector
G. Angloher et al. (CRESST Collaboration)
Eur. Phys. J. C 76, 25 (2016)

Limits on Momentum-Dependent Asymmetric Dark Matter with CRESST-II
G. Angloher et al. (CRESST Collaboration),
Phys. Rev. Lett. 117, 021303

Beta/gamma and alpha backgrounds in CRESST-II Phase 2
R. Strauss et al. (CRESST Collaboration)
J. Cosmol. Astropart. Phys. 06 (2015) 030

A detector module with highly efficient surface-alpha event rejection operated in CRESST-II Phase 2
R. Strauss et al. (CRESST Collaboration)
Eur. Phys. J. C (2015) 75:352

Results on low-mass WIMPs using an upgraded CRESST-II detector
G. Angloher et al. (CRESST Collaboration)
Eur. Phys. J. C 74, 3184 (2014)