Mysterious subject: UTA professors to study dark matter

05/19/2014 4:35 PM

05/19/2014 11:15 PM

The universe has a dark side, and physicist Kaushik De wants to find it.

De, director of the University of Texas at Arlington’s Center of Excellence in High Energy Physics, and several other UTA professors and researchers, will continue their quest for the mysterious dark matter when the world’s largest particle accelerator reopens in 2015 with two times the energy.

The physicists at UTA are part of the ATLAS group, one of two research groups at the Large Hadron Collider that have been studying Big Bang conditions and origins of matter for two decades, and they will use a $2.5 million federal grant announced last week to continue to fund their part in the collider experiments, the university said in a news release.

Since dark matter has never been detected, one of the most promising ways to study it, De said, is to create it, which is what they will attempt to do at Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.

Dark matter and dark energy combined make up about 95 percent of all matter in the universe, which means that “normal” matter, such as the Earth and everything observed with human instruments makes up only 5 percent of the universe, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“We will be able to see them [dark matter] and figure out what they are and where they come from, why they are dark — all the usual questions that physicists look for,” De said.

For De, being on the team that in 2012 announced that it found the elusive Higgs boson particle, believed to give mass to the universe, was enough excitement “for a lifetime.” Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2013 for the discovery of the particle at the Large Hadron Collider, which is in a large tunnel under the French-Swiss border near Geneva.

“Certainly the biggest discovery is the most recent one, which is finding the Higgs boson. To be able to finally understand where mass comes from, what is the origin of mass in the universe, it is just stunning. I still find it amazing that we actually found the particle that gives everything mass,” De said.

Still, he said creating and then studying dark matter would be “the frosting on the cake.”

The three-year grant is a 25 percent increase over previous grant cycles and includes $528,000 for work at the Fermilab Tevatron near Chicago, which uses high-intensity proton beams to explore rare neutrinos and to search for dark matter, and $140,000 toward UT Arlington’s involvement in planning for a new International Linear Collider to further study the Higgs boson.

“We are quite happy that we got this grant because it is validation that our peers — we were reviewed by other universities and professors — thought we were doing a good job,” De said.

The UT Arlington group funded in the grant also includes professors Andrew White, Andrew Brandt and Jaehoon Yu and associate professor Amir Farbin.

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