What do you know about detecting dark matter and dark energy?

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A research team from the University of Kansas, USA, has earned a three-year, $750,000 (€66,300) grant to hunt new ways of understanding and detecting dark matter and dark energy.

According to NASA, scientists have difficulty detecting some 95 per cent of the matter and energy which make up the universe, including detecting dark matter and dark energy.

The nature of dark matter and dark energy might be the most outstanding riddle in science. The presence of dark matter and dark energy has been established in cosmology through gravitational effects on scales from the size of a galaxy to that of the universe.

However, neither the Standard Model of physics nor Einstein’s General Relativity can account for understanding and detecting  dark matter and dark energy. According to experts, physics “beyond the standard model” are needed to resolve properties of dark matter and dark energy at the microscopic level.

Most of the universe is a question mark

The U.S. Department of Energy EPSCoR State/National Lab Partnership program has given the research team $750,000 grant, as well as $150,000 (€133,000) in matching funds from the state of Kansas to hunt new ways in understanding and detecting dark matter and dark energy.

Particle theorists K.C. Kong and Ian Lewis and astrophysicists and cosmologists Mikhail Medvedev and Sergei Shandarin will partner with scientists at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory to carry out the investigation on detecting dark matter and dark energy.

“Most of the universe is a question mark,” said Lewis, assistant professor of physics & astronomy at Kansas University (KU). “Two of the biggest puzzles in fundamental physics are dark matter and dark energy – a whole bunch of matter in the universe we don’t understand.

“These are ‘known unknowns,’ or big questions out there we know we don’t understand, and those are what we are going after.”

Exploring a wide variety of cosmic energy scales

The KU team will work with scientists running supercolliders such as the Large Hadron Collider and neutrino detectors at Fermilab, and also generate computer models to guide experiments looking for indications of dark matter and dark energy.

“The group is proposing a comprehensive program that includes very sensitive detectors and accelerators, and state-of-the-art numerical simulations in conjunction with a deep understanding of the complex and exotic dark matter possible interactions and dark energy effects,” said Hume Feldman, professor and chair of physics & astronomy at KU.

“Since there are many possible scenarios involved, it is absolutely necessary to explore a wide variety of cosmic energy scales and intensity frontiers, each sensitive to different possible configurations and scenarios of the dark sector.”

At Fermilab, KU particle physicists Lewis and Kong will propose new ways to search for dark matter using instruments designed to measure neutrinos, subatomic particles with almost no mass. “Experimentalists will hopefully perform these searches,” Lewis said.

Neutrino detectors well-suited to look for dark matter

The KU physicist said equipment designed to look for neutrinos is well suited to look for dark matter as well. “Neutrinos are very weak interacting particles, and their experiments are built to see these rare events anyway, and you could look for dark matter events with those same experiments,” he said.

“We’ll use the same detectors, but try to find a new way to use them. One idea of using the neutrino detectors is that some dark matter could accumulate in the Sun and it could annihilate itself into different forms of dark matter that comes streaming out of the Sun – and hopefully, you could see that with a neutrino detector.”

In the meantime, Medvedev and Shandarin will partner with Argonne National Laboratory on computer simulations of the cosmos, called “N-body simulations,” to model astrophysical forces under a variety of dark matter scenarios.

Pushing forward the scientific understanding of the cosmos

The project, which builds on expertise and strengths in KU’s Department of Physics & Astronomy, could push forward scientific understanding of the fundamental makeup of the cosmos.

“I’m describing it as theoretical physics phenomenology,” Lewis said. “My colleague K.C. Kong and I were interested in seeing how beyond-standard-model physics could show up in experimental data, and what could that tell us about fundamental problems like dark matter.

“We’re trying to bridge pie-in-the-sky theory with actual experiments, we’re kind of experts on that. Medvedev and Shandarin are experts in things like the cosmic web and space physics and what you can do with dark energy.”

Along with the investigation carried out with the KU faculty researchers, the new grant will provide funds for graduate and undergraduate KU students and postdoctoral researchers to study dark matter and dark energy.

“We’re budgeted for graduate students and postdocs in the DOE-EPSCoR grant,” Lewis said.

“There are also matching funds from the state of Kansas, including additional funding for graduate and undergraduate students. We also support their travel to Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory to work with our lab partners.”

Brendan Lynch
KU News Service
+1 785-864-8855
blynch@ku.edu

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