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  • richardmitnick 3:11 pm on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Q&A with Nobel laureate Barry Barish” 

    Symmetry Mag
    Symmetry

    11/14/17
    Leah Hesla

    1
    Illustration by Ana Kova

    These days the LIGO experiment seems almost unstoppable.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    In September 2015, LIGO detected gravitational waves directly for the first time in history. Afterward, they spotted them three times more, definitively blowing open the doors on the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy.

    On October 3, the Nobel Committee awarded their 2017 prize in physics to some of the main engines behind the experiment. Just two weeks after that, LIGO scientists revealed that they’d seen, for the first time, gravitational waves from the collision of neutron stars, an event confirmed by optical telescopes—yet another first.

    These recent achievements weren’t inevitable. It took LIGO scientists decades to get to this point.

    LIGO leader Barry Barish, one of the three recipients of the 2017 Nobel, recently sat down with Symmetry writer Leah Hesla to give a behind-the-scenes look at his 22 years on the experiment.

    2
    Barry Barish, who obtained his B.S. and Ph.D from UC Berkeley in 1957 and 1962, respectively, shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of gravitational waves. Barish is the Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Caltech. (Caltech photo)

    What has been your role at LIGO?

    I started in 1994 and came on board at a time when we didn’t have the money. I had to get the money and have a strategy that [the National Science Foundation] would buy into, and I had to have a plan that they would keep supporting for 22 years. My main mission was to build this instrument—which we didn’t know how to make—well enough to do what it did.

    So we had to build enough trust and success without discovering gravitational waves so that NSF would keep supporting us. And we had to have the flexibility to evolve LIGO’s design, without costing an arm and a leg, to make the improvements that would eventually make it sensitive enough to succeed.

    We started running in about 2000 and took data and improved the experiment over 10 years. But we just weren’t sensitive enough. We managed to get a major improvement program to what’s called Advanced LIGO from the National Science Foundation. After a year and a half or so of making it work, we turned on the device in September of 2015 and, within days, we’d made the detection.

    What steps did LIGO take to be as sensitive as possible?

    We were limited very much by the shaking of the Earth—at the low frequencies, the Earth just shakes too much. We also couldn’t get rid of the background noise at high frequencies—we can’t sample fast enough.

    In the initial LIGO, we reduced the shaking by something like 100 million. We had the fanciest set of shock absorbers possible. The shock absorbers in your car take a bump that you go over, which is high-frequency, and transfer it softly to low-frequency. You get just a little up and down; you don’t feel very much when you go over a bump. You can’t get rid of the bump—that’s energy—but you can transfer it out of the frequencies where it bothers you.

    So we do the same thing. We have a set of springs that are fancier but are basically like shock absorbers in your car. That gave us a factor of 100 million reduction in the shaking of the Earth.

    But that wasn’t good enough [for initial LIGO].

    What did you do to increase sensitivity for Advanced LIGO?

    After 15 years of not being able to detect gravitational waves, we implemented what we call active seismic isolation, in addition to passive springs. It’s very much equivalent to what happens when you get on an airplane and you put those [noise cancellation] earphones on. All of a sudden the airplane is less noisy. That works by detecting the ambient noise—not the noise by the attendant dropping a glass or something. That’s a sharp noise, and you’d still hear that, or somebody talking to you, which is a loud independent noise. But the ambient noise of the motors and the shaking of the airplane itself are more or less the same now as they were a second ago, so if you measure the frequency of the ambient noise, you can cancel it.

    In Advanced LIGO, we do the same thing. We measure the shaking of the Earth, and then we cancel it with active sensors. The only difference is that our problem is much harder. We have to do this directionally. The Earth shakes in a particular direction—it might be up and down, it might be sideways or at an angle. It took us years to develop this active seismic isolation.

    The idea was there 15 years ago, but we had to do a lot of work to develop very, very sensitive active seismic isolation. The technology didn’t exist—we developed all that technology. It reduced the shaking of the Earth by another factor of 100 [over LIGO’s initial 100 million], so we reduced it by a factor of 10 billion.

    So we could see a factor of 100 further out in the universe than we could have otherwise. And each factor of 10 gets cubed because we’re looking at stars and galaxies [in three dimensions]. So when we improved [initial LIGO’s sensitivity] by a factor of 100 beyond this already phenomenal number of 100 million, it improved our sensitivity immediately, and our rate of seeing these kinds of events, by a factor of a hundred cubed—by a million.

    That’s why, after a few days of running, we saw something. We couldn’t have seen this in all the years that we ran at lower sensitivity.

    What key steps did you take when you came on board in 1994?

    First we had to build a kind of technical group that had the experience and abilities to take on a $100 million project. So I hired a lot of people. It was a good time to do that because it was soon after the closure of the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. I knew some of the most talented people who were involved in that, so I brought them into LIGO, including the person who would be the project manager.

    Second, I made sure the infrastructure was scaled to a stage where we were doing it not the cheapest we could, but rather the most flexible.

    The third thing was to convince NSF that doing this construction project wasn’t the end of what we had to do in terms of development. So we put together a vigorous R&D program, which NSF supported, to develop the technology that would follow similar ones that we used.

    And then there were some technical changes—to become as forward-looking as possible in terms of what we might need later.

    What were the technical changes?

    The first was to change from what was the most popularly used laser in the 1990s, which was a gas laser, to a solid-state laser, which was new at that time. The solid-state laser had the difficulty that the light was no longer in the visible range. It was in the infrared, and people weren’t used to interferometers like that. They like to have light bouncing around that they can see, but you can’t see the solid-state laser light with your naked eye. That’s like particle physics. You can’t see the particles in the accelerator either. We use sensors to do that. So we made that kind of change, going from analog controls to digital controls, which are computer-based.

    We also inherited the kind of control programs that had been developed for accelerators and used at the Superconducting Super Collider, and we brought the SSC controls people into LIGO. These changes didn’t pay off immediately, but paved the road toward making a device that could be modern and not outdated as we moved through the 20 years. It wasn’t so much fixing things as making LIGO much more forward-looking—to make it more and more sensitive, which is the key thing for us.

    Did you draw on past experience?

    I think my history in particle physics was crucial in many ways, for example, in technical ways—things like digital controls, how we monitored beam. We don’t use the same technology, but the idea that you don’t have to see it physically to monitor it—those kinds of things carried over.

    The organization, how we have scientific collaborations, was again something that I created here at LIGO, which was modeled after high-energy physics collaborations. Some of it has to be modified for this different kind of project—this is not an accelerator—but it has a lot of similarities because of the way you approach a large scientific project.

    Were you concerned the experiment wouldn’t happen? If not, what did concern you?

    As long as we kept making technical progress, I didn’t have that concern. My only real concern was nature. Would we be fortunate enough to see gravitational waves at the sensitivities we could get to? It wasn’t predicted totally. There were optimistic predictions—that we could have detected things earlier — but there are also predictions we haven’t gotten to. So my main concern was nature.

    When did you hear about the first detection of gravitational waves?

    If you see gravitational waves from some spectacular thing, you’d also like to be able to see something in telescopes and electromagnetic astronomy that’s correlated. So because of that, LIGO has an early alarm system that alerts you that there might be a gravitational wave event. We more or less have the ability to see spectacular things early. But if you want people to turn their telescopes or other devices to point at something in the sky, you have to tell them something in time scales of minutes or hours, not weeks or months.

    The day we saw this, which we saw early in its running, it happened at 4:50 in the morning in Louisiana, 2:50 in the morning in California, so I found out about it at breakfast time for me, which was about four hours later. When we alert the astronomers, we alert key people from LIGO as well. We get things like that all the time, but this looked a little more serious than others. After a few more hours that day, it became clear that this was nothing like anything we’d seen before, and in fact looked a lot like what we were looking for, and so I would say some people became convinced within hours.

    I wasn’t, but that’s my own conservatism: What’s either fooling us or how are we fooling ourselves? There were two main issues. One is the possibility that maybe somebody was inserting a rogue event in our data, some malicious way to try to fool us. We had to make sure we could trace the history of the events from the apparatus itself and make sure there was no possibility that somebody could do this. That took about a month of work. The second was that LIGO was a brand new, upgraded version, so I wasn’t sure that there weren’t new ways to generate things that would fool us. Although we had a lot of experience over a lot of years, it wasn’t really with this version of LIGO. This version was only a few days old. So it took us another month or so to convince us that it was real. It was obvious that there was going to be a classic discovery if it held up.

    What does it feel like to win the Nobel Prize?

    It happened at 3 in the morning here [in California]. [The night before], I had a nice dinner with my wife, and we went to bed early. I set the alarm for 2:40. They were supposed to announce the result at 2:45. I don’t know why I set it for 2:40, but I did. I moved the house phone into our bedroom.

    The alarm did go off at 2:40. There was no call, obviously—I hadn’t been awakened, so I assumed, kind of in my groggy state, that we must have been passed over. I started going to my laptop to see who was going to get it. Then my cell phone started ringing. My wife heard it. My cell phone number is not given out, generally. There are tens of people who have it, but how [the Nobel Foundation] got it, I’m not sure. Some colleague, I suppose. It was a surprise to me that it came on the cell phone.

    The president of the Nobel Foundation told me who he was, said he had good news and told me I won. And then we chatted for a few minutes, and he asked me how I felt. And I spontaneously said that I felt “thrilled and humbled at the same time.” There’s no word for that, exactly, but that mixture of feeling is what I had and still have.

    Do you have advice for others organizing big science projects?

    We have an opportunity. As I grew into this and as science grew big, we always had to push and push and push on technology, and we’ve certainly done that on LIGO. We do that in particle physics, we do that in accelerators.

    I think the table has turned somewhat and that the technology has grown so fast in the recent decades that there’s incredible opportunities to do new science. The development of new technologies gives us so much ability to ask difficult scientific questions. We’re in an era that I think is going to propagate fantastically into the future.

    Just in the new millennium, maybe the three most important discoveries in physics have all been done with, I would say, high-tech, modern, large-scale devices: the neutrino experiments at SNO and Kamiokande doing the neutrino oscillations, which won a Nobel Prize in 2013; the Higgs boson—no device is more complicated or bigger or more technically advanced than the CERN LHC experiments; and then ours, which is not quite the scale of the LHC, but it’s the same scale as these experiments—the billion dollar scale—and it’s very high-tech.

    Einstein thought that gravitational waves could never be detected, but he didn’t know about lasers, digital controls and active seismic isolation and all things that we developed, all the high-tech things that are coming from industry and our pushing them a little bit harder.

    The fact is, technology is changing so fast. Most of us can’t live without GPS, and 10 or 15 years ago, we didn’t have GPS. GPS exists because of general relativity, which is what I do. The inner silicon microstrip detectors in the CERN experiment were developed originally for particle physics. They developed rapidly. But now, they’re way behind what’s being done in industry in the same area. Our challenge is to learn how to grab what is being developed, because technology is becoming great.

    I think we need to become really aware and understand the developments of technology and how to apply those to the most basic physics questions that we have and do it in a forward-looking way.

    What are your hopes for the future of LIGO?

    It’s fantastic. For LIGO itself, we’re not limited by anything in nature. We’re limited by ourselves in terms of improving it over the next 15 years, just like we improved in going from initial LIGO to Advanced LIGO. We’re not at the limit.

    So we can look forward to certainly a factor of 2 to 3 improvement, which we’ve already been funded for and are ready for, and that will happen over the next few years. And that factor of 2 or 3 gets cubed in our case.

    This represents a completely new way to look at the universe. Everything we look at was with electromagnetic radiation, and a little bit with neutrinos, until we came along. We know that only a few percent of what’s out there is luminous, and so we are opening a new age of astronomy, really. At the same time, we’re able to test Einstein’s theories of general relativity in its most important way, which is by looking where the fields are the strongest, around black holes.

    That’s the opportunity that exists over a long time scale with gravitational waves. The fact that they’re a totally different way of looking at the sky means that in the long term it will develop into an important part of how we understand our universe and where we came from. Gravitational waves are the best way possible, in theory—we can’t do it now—of going back to the very beginning, the Big Bang, because they weren’t absorbed. What we know now comes from photons, but they can go back to only 300,000 years from the Big Bang because they’re absorbed.

    We can go back to the beginning. We don’t know how to do it yet, but that is the potential.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


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  • richardmitnick 4:55 am on October 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cross scetions in Physics, , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Speak physics: What is a cross section? 

    Symmetry Mag
    Symmetry

    10/24/17
    Oscar Miyamoto

    1
    In a gas of particles of individual diameter $2r$, the cross section $\sigma$ for collisions is related to the particle number density $n$, and mean free path between collisions $\lambda$.
    Date 19 August 2017
    Source Own work
    Author Qwerty123uiop, RASch 8-17

    Imagine two billiard balls rolling toward one another. The likelihood of a collision depends on easy-to-grasp concepts: How big are they? How precisely are they aimed?

    When you start talking about the likelihood of particles colliding, things get trickier. That’s why physicists use the term “cross section.”

    Unlike solid objects, elementary particles themselves behave as tiny waves of probability.

    And their interactions are not limited to a physical bump. Particles can interact at a distance, for example, through the electromagnetic force or gravity. Some particles, such as neutrinos, interact only rarely through the weak force. You might imagine them as holograms of billiard balls that occasionally flit into a solid state.

    In physics, a cross section describes the likelihood of two particles interacting under certain conditions. Those conditions include, for example, the number of particles in the beam, the angle at which they hit the target, and what the target is made of.

    “Cross sections link theory with reality,” says Gerardo Herrera, a researcher at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City and a collaborator on the ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. “They provide a picture of the fundamental properties of particles. That’s their greatest utility.”

    Cross sections come in many varieties. They can help describe what happens when a particle hits a nucleus. In elastic reactions, particles bounce off one another but maintain their identities, like two ricocheting billiard balls. In inelastic reactions, one or more particle shatters apart, like a billiard ball struck by a bullet. In a resonance state, short-lived virtual particles appear.

    1
    Jorge G. Morf´ın , Juan Nievesb , Jan T. Sobczyka

    This plot comes from a paper [Advances in High Energy Physics] on interactions between neutrinos and atomic nuclei. The vertical axis represents the chances of the different reactions (measured in square centimeters over giga-electronvolts), and the horizontal axis represents the energy of the incoming neutrinos (measured in giga-electronvolts). An electronvolt is a measure of energy based on the amount of energy an electron gains after being accelerated by 1 volt of electricity.

    These measurements of one or more aspects of the interaction are called differential cross sections, while summaries of all of these reactions put together are called total cross sections.

    Physicists represent cross sections in equations with the Greek letter sigma (σ). But once they have been measured in actual collisions, their data can be visualized in figures like this:

    The above image is telling us, for instance, that at an energy of 10 giga-electronvolts the most probable result would be a deep inelastic scattering (green line), followed by a resonance state (red line), and lastly by a quasi-elastic event (blue line). The black curve represents the total cross section. The error bars (thin lines that go sideways and upside-down) indicate the estimated accuracy of each measurement.

    “What you see in this figure are attempts to find a common way to display complex experimental results. This plot is showing how we divide up events that we find in our detectors,” says Jorge Morfín, a senior scientist at Fermilab and one of the main authors of the paper.

    Cross sections are used to communicate results among researchers with common interests, Morfín says. The previous cross section serves, then, as a way to compare data obtained from labs that use different measurement techniques and nuclear targets, such as NOMAD (CERN), SciBooNE (Fermilab) and T2K (Japan).

    Scientists studying astrophysics, quantum chromodynamics, physical chemistry and even nanoscience use these kinds of plots in order to understand how particles decay, absorb energy and interact with one another.

    “They make so many connections with different scientific fields and current research that’s going on,” says Tom Abel, a computational cosmologist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University.

    In the hunt for dark matter, for example, researchers investigate whether particles interact in the way theorists predict.

    “We are looking for interactions between dark matter particles and heavy nuclei, or dark matter particles interacting with one another,” Abel says. “All of this is expressed in cross-sections.”

    If they see different interactions than they expect, it could be a sign of the influence of something unseen—like dark matter.

    In a world where probability and uncertainty reign, Herrera notes that concepts in quantum mechanics can be difficult to grasp. “But cross sections are a very tangible element,” he says, “and one of the most important measurements in high-energy physics.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 1:16 pm on October 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Scientists make rare achievement in study of antimatter, Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Scientists make rare achievement in study of antimatter” 


    Symmetry

    10/19/17
    Kimber Price

    1
    Maximilien Brice, Julien Marius Ordan, CERN

    Through hard work, ingenuity and a little cooperation from nature, scientists on the BASE experiment vastly improved their measurement of a property of protons and antiprotons.

    2
    BASE: Baryon Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment. Maximilien Brice

    Scientists at CERN are celebrating a recent, rare achievement in precision physics: Collaborators on the BASE experiment measured a property of antimatter 350 times as precisely as it had ever been measured before.

    The BASE experiment looks for undiscovered differences between protons and their antimatter counterparts, antiprotons. The result, published in the journal Nature, uncovered no such difference, but BASE scientists say they are hopeful the leap in the effectiveness of their measurement has potentially brought them closer to a discovery.

    “According to our understanding of the Standard Model [of particle physics], the Big Bang should have created exactly the same amount of matter and antimatter, but [for the most part] only matter remains,” says BASE Spokesperson Stefan Ulmer.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    This is strange because when matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate one another. Scientists want to know how matter came to dominate our universe.

    “One strategy to try to get hints to understand the mechanisms behind this matter-antimatter symmetry is to compare the fundamental properties of matter and antimatter particles with ultra-high precision,” Ulmer says.

    Scientists on the BASE experiment study a property called the magnetic moment. The magnetic moment is an intrinsic value of particles such as protons and antiprotons that determines how they will orient in a magnetic field, like a compass. Protons and antiprotons should behave exactly the same, other than their charge and direction of orientation; any differences in how they respond to the laws of physics could help explain why our universe is made mostly of matter.

    This is a challenging measurement to make with a proton. Measuring the magnetic moment of an antiproton is an even bigger task. To prevent antiprotons from coming into contact with matter and annihilating, scientists need to house them in special electromagnetic traps.

    While antiprotons generally last less than a second, the ones used in this study were placed in a unique reservoir trap in 2015 and used one by one, as needed, for experiments. The trapped antimatter survived for more than 400 days.

    During the last year, Ulmer and his team worked to improve the precision of the most sophisticated technqiues developed for this measurement in the last decade.

    They did this by improving thier cooling methods. Antiprotons at temperatures close to absolute zero move less than room-temperature ones, making them easier to measure.

    Previously, BASE scientists had cooled each individual antiproton before measuring it and moving on to the next. With the improved trap, the antiprotons stayed cool long enough for the scientists to swap an antiproton for a new one as soon as it became too hot.

    “Developing an instrument stable enough to keep the antiproton close to absolute zero for 4-5 days was the major goal,” says Christian Smorra, the first author of the study.

    This allowed them to collect data more rapidly than ever before. Combining this instrument with a new technique that measures two particles simultaneously allowed them to break their own record from last year’s measurement by a longshot.

    “This is very rare in precision physics, where experimental efforts report on factors of greater than 100 magnitude in improvement,” Ulmer says.

    The results confirm that the two particles behave exactly the same, as the laws of physics would predict. So the mystery of the imbalance between matter and antimatter remains.

    Ulmer says that the group will continue to improve the precision of their work. He says that, in five to 10 years, they should be able to make a measurement at least twice as precise as this latest one. It could be within this range that they will be able to detect subtle differences between protons and antiprotons.

    “Antimatter is a very unique probe,” Ulmer says. “It kind of watches the universe through very different glasses than any matter experiments. With antimatter research, we may be the only ones to uncover physics treasures that would help explain why we don’t have antimatter anymore.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 3:28 pm on October 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Scientists observe first verified neutron-star collision” 


    Symmetry

    10/16/17
    Sarah Charley

    1
    Fermilab

    Today scientists announced the first verified observation of a neutron star collision. LIGO detected gravitational waves radiating from two neutron stars as they circled and merged, triggering 50 additional observational groups to jump into action and find the glimmer of this ancient explosion.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    This observation represents the first time experiments have seen both light and gravitational waves from a single celestial crash, unlocking a new era of multi-messenger astronomy.

    On August 17 at 7:41 a.m. Eastern Time, NASA astronomer Julie McEnery had just returned from an early morning row on the Anacostia River when her experiment, the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, sent out an automatic alert that it had just recorded a burst of gamma rays coming from the southern constellation Hydra.

    NASA/Fermi Telescope


    NASA/Fermi LAT

    By itself, this wasn’t novel; the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor instrument on Fermi has seen approximately 2 gamma-ray outbursts per day since its launch in 2008.

    “Forty minutes later, I got an email from a colleague at LIGO saying that our trigger has a friend and that we should buckle up,” McEnery says.

    Most astronomy experiments, including the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, watch for light or other particles emanating from distant stars and galaxies. The LIGO experiment, on the other hand, listens for gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are the equivalent of cosmic tremors, but instead of rippling through layers of rock and dirt, they stretch and compress space-time itself.

    Exactly 1.7 seconds before Fermi noticed the gamma ray burst, a set of extremely loud gravitational waves had shaken LIGO’s dual detectors.

    “The sky positions overlapped, strongly suggesting the two signals were coming from the same astronomical event,” says Daniel Holz, a professor at the University of Chicago and member of LIGO collaboration and the Dark Energy Survey Gravitational Wave group.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam

    LIGO reconstructed the location and distance of the event and sent an alert to their allied astronomers. About 12 hours later, right after sunset, multiple astronomical surveys found a glowing blue dot just above the horizon in the area LIGO predicted.

    “It lasted for two weeks, and we observed it for about an hour every night,” says Jim Annis, a researcher at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the lead institution on the Dark Energy Survey. “We used telescopes that could see everything from low-energy radio waves all the way to high-energy X-rays, giving us a detailed image of what happened immediately after the initial collision.”

    Neutron stars are roughly the size of the island of Nantucket but have more mass than the sun. They have such a strong gravitational pull that all their matter has been squeezed and transformed into a single, giant atomic nucleus consisting entirely of neutrons.

    “Right before two neutron stars collide, they circle each other about 100 times a second,” Annis says. “As they collide, huge electromagnetic tornados erupt at the poles and material is sprayed out in all directions at close to the speed of light.”

    As they merge, neutron stars release a quick burst of gamma radiation and then a spray of decompressing neutron star matter. Exotic heavy elements form and decay, dumping enough energy that the surface reaches temperatures of 20,000 degrees Kelvin. That’s almost four times hotter than the surface of the sun and much brighter. Scientists theorize that a good portion of the heavy elements in our universe, such as gold, originated in neutron star collisions and other massively energetic events.

    Since coming online in September 2015, the US-based LIGO collaboration and their Italy-based partners, the Virgo collaboration, have reported detecting five bursts of gravitational waves. Up until now, each of these observations has come from a collision of black holes.

    “When two black holes collide, they emit gravitational waves but no light,” Holz says. “But this event released an enormous amount of light and numerous astronomical surveys saw it. Hearing and seeing the event provides a goldmine of information, and we will be mining the data for years to come.”

    This is a Rosetta Stone-type discovery, Holz says. “We’ve learned about the processes that neutron stars are undergoing as they fling out matter and how this matter synthesizes into some of the elements we find on Earth, such as gold and platinum,” he says. “In addition to teaching us about mysterious gamma-ray bursts, we can use this event to calculate the expansion rate of the universe. We will be able to estimate the age and composition of the universe in an entirely new way.”

    For McEnery, the discovery ushers in a new age of cooperation between gravitational-wave experiments and experiments like her own.

    “The light and gravitational waves from this collision raced each other across the cosmos for 130 million years and hit earth 1.7 seconds apart,” she says. “This shows that both are moving at the speed of light, as predicted by Einstein. This is what we’ve been hoping to see.”

    Editor’s note: See LIGO scientific publications here.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 9:53 pm on October 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Symmetry Magazine, Xenon is a heavy noble gas that exists in trace quantities in the air, Xenon takes a turn in the LHC   

    From Symmetry: “Xenon takes a turn in the LHC” 

    Symmetry Mag
    Symmetry

    10/12/17
    Sarah Charley

    1
    For the first time, the Large Hadron Collider is accelerating xenon nuclei for experiments.

    LHC

    CERN/LHC Map

    CERN LHC Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    Most of the year, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN collides protons. LHC scientists have also accelerated lead nuclei stripped of their electrons. Today, for just about eight hours, they are experimenting with a different kind of nucleus: xenon.

    Xenon is a heavy noble gas that exists in trace quantities in the air. Xenon nuclei are about 40 percent lighter than lead nuclei, so xenon-xenon collisions have a different geometry and energy distribution than lead-lead collisions.

    “When two high-energy nuclei collide, they can momentarily form a droplet of quark gluon plasma, the primordial matter that filled our universe just after the big bang,” says Peter Steinberg, a physicist at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and a heavy-ion coordinator for the ATLAS experiment at CERN. “The shape of the colliding nuclei influences the initial shape of this droplet, which in turn influences how the plasma flows and finally shows up in the angles of the particles we measure. We’re hoping that these smaller droplets from xenon-xenon collisions give us deeper insight into how this still-mysterious process works at truly subatomic length scales.”

    Not all particles that travel through CERN’s long chain of interconnected accelerators wind up in the LHC. Earlier this year, scientists were loading xenon ions into the accelerator and firing them at a fixed-target experiment instead.

    “We can have particles from two different sources feeding into CERN’s accelerator complex,” says Michaela Schaumann, a physicist in LHC operation working on the heavy-ion program. “The LHC’s injectors are so flexible that, once everything is set up properly, they can alternate between accelerating protons and accelerating ions a few times a minute.”

    Having the xenon beam already available provided an opportunity to send xenon into the LHC for first (and potentially only) time. It took some serious additional work to bring the beam quality up to collider levels, Schaumann says, but today it was ready to go.

    “We are keeping the intensities very low in order to fulfil machine protection requirements and be able to use the same accelerator configuration we apply during the proton-proton runs with xenon beams,” Schaumann says. “We needed to adjust the frequency of the accelerator cavities [because more massive xenon ions circulate more slowly than protons], but many of the other machine settings stayed roughly the same.”

    This novel run tests scientists’ knowledge of beam physics and shows the flexibility of the LHC. Scientists say they are hopeful it could reveal something new.

    “We can learn a lot about the properties of the hot, dense matter from smaller collision systems,” Steinberg says. “They are a valuable bridge to connect what we observe in lead-lead collisions to strikingly similar observations in proton-proton interactions.”

    3
    The LHC screen during the xenon-ion run. (Image: CERN)

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 1:46 pm on October 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Dark Matter Radio, Every particle can also behave like a wave, , Symmetry Magazine,   

    From Symmetry: “A radio for dark matter” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    10/05/17
    Manuel Gnida

    Instead of searching for dark matter particles, a new device will search for dark matter waves.

    1
    Artwork by Colleen Ehrhart

    2

    The dark matter radio disc jockeys. Front row, from left: Carl Dawson, Hsiao-Mei “Sherry” Cho and Saptarshi Chaudhuri. Back row, from left: Arran Phipps, Stephen Kuenstner and Kent Irwin. Not pictured: Dale Li and Peter Graham. Dawn Harmer/SLAC

    Researchers are testing a prototype “radio” that could let them listen to the tune of mysterious dark matter particles.

    Dark matter is an invisible substance thought to be five times more prevalent in the universe than regular matter. According to theory, billions of dark matter particles pass through the Earth each second. We don’t notice them because they interact with regular matter only very weakly, through gravity.

    So far, researchers have mostly been looking for dark matter particles. But with the dark matter radio, they want to look for dark matter waves.

    Direct detection experiments for dark matter particles use large underground detectors. Researchers hope to see signals from dark matter particles colliding with the detector material. However, this only works if dark matter particles are heavy enough to deposit a detectable amount energy in the collision.

    “If dark matter particles were very light, we might have a better chance of detecting them as waves rather than particles,” says Peter Graham, a theoretical physicist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a joint institute of Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “Our device will take the search in that direction.”

    The dark matter radio makes use of a bizarre concept of quantum mechanics known as wave-particle duality: Every particle can also behave like a wave.

    Take, for example, the photon: the massless fundamental particle that carries the electromagnetic force. Streams of them make up electromagnetic radiation, or light, which we typically describe as waves—including radio waves.

    The dark matter radio will search for dark matter waves associated with two particular dark matter candidates. It could find hidden photons—hypothetical cousins of photons with a small mass. Or it could find axions, which scientists think can be produced out of light and transform back into it in the presence of a magnetic field.

    “The search for hidden photons will be completely unexplored territory,” says Saptarshi Chaudhuri, a Stanford graduate student on the project. “As for axions, the dark matter radio will close gaps in the searches of existing experiments.”

    Intercepting dark matter vibes

    A regular radio intercepts radio waves with an antenna and converts them into sound. What sound depends on the station. A listener chooses a station by adjusting an electric circuit, in which electricity can oscillate with a certain resonant frequency. If the circuit’s resonant frequency matches the station’s frequency, the radio is tuned in and the listener can hear the broadcast.

    The dark matter radio works the same way. At its heart is an electric circuit with an adjustable resonant frequency. If the device were tuned to a frequency that matched the frequency of a dark matter particle wave, the circuit would resonate. Scientists could measure the frequency of the resonance, which would reveal the mass of the dark matter particle.

    The idea is to do a frequency sweep by slowly moving through the different frequencies, as if tuning a radio from one end of the dial to the other.

    The electric signal from dark matter waves is expected to be very weak. Therefore, Graham has partnered with a team led by another KIPAC researcher, Kent Irwin. Irwin’s group is developing highly sensitive magnetometers known as superconducting quantum interference devices, or SQUIDs, which they’ll pair with extremely low-noise amplifiers to hunt for potential signals.

    In its final design, the dark matter radio will search for particles in a mass range of trillionths to millionths of an electronvolt. (One electronvolt is about a billionth of the mass of a proton.) This is somewhat problematic because this range includes kilohertz to gigahertz frequencies—frequencies used for over-the-air broadcasting.

    “Shielding the radio from unwanted radiation is very important and also quite challenging,” Irwin says. “In fact, we would need a several-yards-thick layer of copper to do so. Fortunately we can achieve the same effect with a thin layer of superconducting metal.”

    One advantage of the dark matter radio is that it does not need to be shielded from cosmic rays. Whereas direct detection searches for dark matter particles must operate deep underground to block out particles falling from space, the dark matter radio can operate in a university basement.

    The researchers are now testing a small-scale prototype at Stanford that will scan a relatively narrow frequency range. They plan on eventually operating two independent, full-size instruments at Stanford and SLAC.

    “This is exciting new science,” says Arran Phipps, a KIPAC postdoc on the project. “It’s great that we get to try out a new detection concept with a device that is relatively low-budget and low-risk.”

    The dark matter disc jockeys are taking the first steps now and plan to conduct their dark matter searches over the next few years. Stay tuned for future results.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:12 am on October 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SESAME - also known as the International Centre for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications, Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Shining with possibility” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    09/26/17
    Signe Brewster

    As Jordan-based SESAME nears its first experiments, members are connecting in new ways.

    1
    Artwork by Ana Kova


    SESAME Particle Accelerator, Jordan campus, an independent laboratory located in Allan in the Balqa governorate of Jordan

    Early in the morning, physicist Roy Beck Barkai boards a bus in Tel Aviv bound for Jordan. By 10:30 a.m., he is on site at SESAME, a new scientific facility where scientists plan to use light to study everything from biology to archaeology. He is back home by 7 p.m., in time to have dinner with his children.

    Before SESAME opened, the closest facility like it was in Italy. Beck Barkai often traveled for two days by airplane, train and taxi for a day or two of work—an inefficient and expensive process that limited his ability to work with specialized equipment from his home lab and required him to spend days away from his family.

    “For me, having the ability to kiss them goodbye in the morning and just before they went to sleep at night is a miracle,” Beck Barkai says. “It felt like a dream come true. Having SESAME at our doorstep is a big plus.”

    SESAME, also known as the International Centre for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, opened its doors in May and is expected to host its first beams of synchrotron light this year. Scientists from around the world will be able to apply for time to use the facility’s powerful light source for their experiments. It’s the first synchrotron in the region.

    Beck Barkai says SESAME provides a welcome dose of convenience, as scientists in the region can now drive to a research center instead of flying with sensitive equipment to another country. It’s also more cost-effective.

    Located in Jordan to the northwest of the city of Amman, SESAME was built by a collaboration made up of Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority—a partnership members hope will improve relations among the eight neighbors.

    “SESAME is a very important step in the region,” says SESAME Scientific Advisory Committee Chair Zehra Sayers. “The language of science is objective. It’s based on curiosity. It doesn’t need to be affected by the differences in cultural and social backgrounds. I hope it is something that we will leave the next generations as a positive step toward stability.”

    2
    Artwork by Ana Kova

    Protein researcher and a University of Jordan professor Areej Abuhammad says she hopes SESAME will provide an environment that encourages collaboration.

    “I think through having the chance to interact, the scientists from around this region will learn to trust and respect each other,” she says. “I don’t think that this will result in solving all the problems in the region from one day to the next, but it will be a big step forward.”

    The $100 million center is a state-of-the-art research facility that should provide some relief to scientists seeking time at other, overbooked facilities. SESAME plans to eventually host 100 to 200 users at a time.

    SESAME’s first two beamlines will open later this year. About twice per year, SESAME will announce calls for research proposals, the next of which is expected for this fall. Sayers says proposals will be evaluated for originality, preparedness and scientific quality.

    Groups of researchers hoping to join the first round of experiments submitted more than 50 applications. Once the lab is at full operation, Sayers says, the selection committee expects to receive four to five times more than that.

    Opening up a synchrotron in the Middle East means that more people will learn about these facilities and have a chance to use them. Because some scientists in the region are new to using synchrotrons or writing the style of applications SESAME requires, Sayers asked the selection committee to provide feedback with any rejections.

    Abuhammad is excited for the learning opportunity SESAME presents for her students—and for the possibility that experiences at SESAME will spark future careers in science.

    She plans to apply for beam time at SESAME to conduct protein crystallography, a field that involves peering inside proteins to learn about their function and aid in pharmaceutical drug discovery.

    Another scientist vying for a spot at SESAME is Iranian chemist Maedeh Darzi, who studies the materials of ancient manuscripts and how they degrade. Synchrotrons are of great value to archaeologists because they minimize the damage to irreplaceable artifacts. Instead of cutting them apart, scientists can take a less damaging approach by probing them with particles.

    Darzi sees SESAME as a chance to collaborate with scientists from the Middle East and to promote science, peace and friendship. For her and others, SESAME could be a place where particles put things back together.

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 6:56 am on October 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Symmetry Magazine,   

    From Symmetry: “Nobel recognizes gravitational wave discovery” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    10/03/17
    Kathryn Jepsen

    1
    Sandbox Studio

    Scientists Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their roles in creating the LIGO experiment.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    After being passed up for the honor last year, three scientists who made essential contributions to the LIGO collaboration have been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

    Rainer Weiss will share the prize with Kip Thorne and Barry Barish for their roles in the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time predicted by Albert Einstein. Weiss and Thorne conceived of the experiment, and project manager Barish is credited with reviving the struggling experiment and making it happen.

    “I view this more as a thing that recognizes the work of about 1000 people,” Weiss said during a Q&A after the announcement this morning. “It’s really a dedicated effort that has been going on, I hate to tell you, for as long as 40 years, people trying to make a detection in the early days and then slowly but surely getting the technology together to do it.”

    A third founder of LIGO, scientist Ronald Drever, died in March. Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously.

    According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, powerful cosmic events release energy in the form of waves traveling through the fabric of existence at the speed of light. LIGO detects these disturbances when they disrupt the symmetry between the passages of identical laser beams traveling identical distances.

    The setup for the LIGO experiment looks like a giant L, with each side stretching about 2.5 miles long. Scientists split a laser beam and shine the two halves down the two sides of the L. When each half of the beam reaches the end, it reflects off a mirror and heads back to the place where its journey began.

    Normally, the two halves of the beam return at the same time. When there’s a mismatch, scientists know something is going on. Gravitational waves compress space-time in one direction and stretch it in another, giving one half of the beam a shortcut and sending the other on a longer trip. LIGO is sensitive enough to notice a difference between the arms as small as 1000th the diameter of an atomic nucleus.

    Scientists on LIGO and their partner collaboration, called Virgo, reported the first detection of gravitational waves in February 2016. The waves were generated in the collision of two black holes with 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun 1.3 billion years ago. They reached the LIGO experiment as scientists were conducting an engineering test.

    “It took us a long time, something like two months, to convince ourselves that we had seen something from outside that was truly a gravitational wave,” Weiss said.

    LIGO, which stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, consists of two of these pieces of equipment, one located in Louisiana and another in Washington state.

    The experiment is operated jointly by MIT, Weiss’s home institution, and Caltech, Barish and Thorne’s home institution. The experiment has collaborators from more than 80 institutions from more than 20 countries. A third interferometer, operated by the Virgo collaboration, recently joined LIGO to make the first joint observation of gravitational waves.

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 2:02 pm on September 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A2D2, , , IARC-Fermilab’s Illinois Accelerator Research Center, , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Concrete applications for accelerator science” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    09/21/17
    Leah Poffenberger

    1
    Photo by Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

    A project called A2D2 will explore new applications for compact linear accelerators.

    Particle accelerators are the engines of particle physics research at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. They generate nearly light-speed, subatomic particles that scientists study to get to the bottom of what makes our universe tick. Fermilab experiments rely on a number of different accelerators, including a powerful, 500-foot-long linear accelerator that kick-starts the process of sending particle beams to various destinations.

    But if you’re not doing physics research, what’s an accelerator good for?

    It turns out, quite a lot: Electron beams generated by linear accelerators have all kinds of practical uses, such as making the wires used in cars melt-resistant or purifying water.

    A project called Accelerator Application Development and Demonstration (A2D2) at Fermilab’s Illinois Accelerator Research Center will help Fermilab and its partners to explore new applications for compact linear accelerators, which are only a few feet long rather than a few hundred. These compact accelerators are of special interest because of their small size—they’re cheaper and more practical to build in an industrial setting than particle physics research accelerators—and they can be more powerful than ever.

    “A2D2 has two aspects: One is to investigate new applications of how electron beams might be used to change, modify or process different materials,” says Fermilab’s Tom Kroc, an A2D2 physicist. “The second is to contribute a little more to the understanding of how these processes happen.”

    To develop these aspects of accelerator applications, A2D2 will employ a compact linear accelerator that was once used in a hospital to treat tumors with electron beams. With a few upgrades to increase its power, the A2D2 accelerator will be ready to embark on a new venture: exploring and benchmarking other possible uses of electron beams, which will help specify the design of a new, industrial-grade, high-power machine under development by IARC and its partners.

    It won’t be just Fermilab scientists using the A2D2 accelerator: As part of IARC, the accelerator will be available for use (typically through a formal CRADA or SPP agreement) by anyone who has a novel idea for electron beam applications. IARC’s purpose is to partner with industry to explore ways to translate basic research and tools, including accelerator research, into commercial applications.

    “I already have a lot of people from industry asking me, ‘When can I use A2D2?’” says Charlie Cooper, general manager of IARC. “A2D2 will allow us to directly contribute to industrial applications—it’s something concrete that IARC now offers.”

    Speaking of concrete, one of the first applications in mind for compact linear accelerators is creating durable pavement for roads that won’t crack in the cold or spread out in the heat. This could be achieved by replacing traditional asphalt with a material that could be strengthened using an accelerator. The extra strength would come from crosslinking, a process that creates bonds between layers of material, almost like applying glue between sheets of paper. A single sheet of paper tears easily, but when two or more layers are linked by glue, the paper becomes stronger.

    “Using accelerators, you could have pavement that lasts longer, is tougher and has a bigger temperature range,” says Bob Kephart, director of IARC. Kephart holds two patents for the process of curing cement through crosslinking. “Basically, you’d put the road down like you do right now, and you’d pass an accelerator over it, and suddenly you’d turn it into really tough stuff—like the bed liner in the back of your pickup truck.”

    This process has already caught the eye of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will be one of A2D2’s first partners. Another partner will be the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which will test the utility of compact accelerators for water purification. Many other potential customers are lining up to use the A2D2 technology platform.

    “You can basically drive chemical reactions with electron beams—and in many cases those can be more efficient than conventional technology, so there are a variety of applications,” Kephart says. “Usually what you have to do is make a batch of something and heat it up in order for a reaction to occur. An electron beam can make a reaction happen by breaking a bond with a single electron.”

    In other words, instead of having to cook a material for a long time to reach a specific heat that would induce a chemical reaction, you could zap it with an electron beam to get the same effect in a fraction of the time.

    In addition to exploring the new electron-beam applications with the A2D2 accelerator, scientists and engineers at IARC are using cutting-edge accelerator technology to design and build a new kind of portable, compact accelerator, one that will take applications uncovered with A2D2 out of the lab and into the field. The A2D2 accelerator is already small compared to most accelerators, but the latest R&D allows IARC experts to shrink the size while increasing the power of their proposed accelerator even further.

    “The new, compact accelerator that we’re developing will be high-power and high-energy for industry,” Cooper says. “This will enable some things that weren’t possible in the past. For something such as environmental cleanup, you could take the accelerator directly to the site.”

    While the IARC team develops this portable accelerator, which should be able to fit on a standard trailer, the A2D2 accelerator will continue to be a place to experiment with how to use electron beams—and study what happens when you do.

    “The point of this facility is more development than research, however there will be some research on irradiated samples,” says Fermilab’s Mike Geelhoed, one of the A2D2 project leads. “We’re all excited—at least I am. We and our partners have been anticipating this machine for some time now. We all want to see how well it can perform.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:03 pm on September 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Light dark matter, , SENSEI prototype, Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “SENSEI searches for light dark matter” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    09/15/17
    Leah Poffenberger

    Technology proposed 30 years ago to search for dark matter is finally seeing the light.

    1
    FNAL SENSEI prototype. Photo by Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

    In a project called SENSEI, scientists are using innovative sensors developed over three decades to look for the lightest dark matter particles anyone has ever tried to detect.

    Dark matter—so named because it doesn’t absorb, reflect or emit light—constitutes 27 percent of the universe, but the jury is still out on what it’s made of. The primary theoretical suspect for the main component of dark matter is a particle scientists have descriptively named the weakly interactive massive particle, or WIMP.

    But since none of these heavy particles, which are expected to have a mass 100 times that of a proton, have shown up in experiments, it might be time for researchers to think small.

    “There is a growing interest in looking for different kinds of dark matter that are additives to the standard WIMP model,” says Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory scientist Javier Tiffenberg, a leader of the SENSEI collaboration. “Lightweight, or low-mass, dark matter is a very compelling possibility, and for the first time, the technology is there to explore these candidates.”

    Sensing the unseen

    In traditional dark matter experiments, scientists look for a transfer of energy that would occur if dark matter particles collided with an ordinary nucleus. But SENSEI is different; it looks for direct interactions of dark matter particles colliding with electrons.

    “That is a big difference—you get a lot more energy transferred in this case because an electron is so light compared to a nucleus,” Tiffenberg says.

    If dark matter had low mass—much smaller than the WIMP model suggests—then it would be many times lighter than an atomic nucleus. So if it were to collide with a nucleus, the resulting energy transfer would be far too small to tell us anything. It would be like throwing a ping-pong ball at a boulder: The heavy object wouldn’t go anywhere, and there would be no sign the two had come into contact.

    An electron is nowhere near as heavy as an atomic nucleus. In fact, a single proton has about 1836 times more mass than an electron. So the collision of a low-mass dark matter particle with an electron has a much better chance of leaving a mark—it’s more bowling ball than boulder.

    Bowling balls aren’t exactly light, though. An energy transfer between a low-mass dark matter particle and an electron would leave only a blip of energy, one either too small for most detectors to pick up or easily overshadowed by noise in the data.

    “The bowling ball will move a very tiny amount,” says Fermilab scientist Juan Estrada, a SENSEI collaborator. “You need a very precise detector to see this interaction of lightweight particles with something that is much heavier.”

    That’s where SENSEI’s sensitive sensors come in.

    SENSEI will use skipper charge-couple devices, also called skipper CCDs. CCDs have been used for other dark matter detection experiments, such as the Dark Matter in CCDs (or DAMIC) experiment operating at SNOLAB in Canada.

    3
    DAMIC experiment operating at SNOLAB

    These CCDs were a spinoff from sensors developed for use in the Dark Energy Camera in Chile and other dark energy search projects.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    CCDs are typically made of silicon divided into pixels. When a dark matter particle passes through the CCD, it collides with the silicon’s electrons, knocking them free, leaving a net electric charge in each pixel the particle passes through. The electrons then flow through adjacent pixels and are ultimately read as a current in a device that measures the number of electrons freed from each CCD pixel. That measurement tells scientists about the mass and energy of the particle that got the chain reaction going. A massive particle, like a WIMP, would free a gusher of electrons, but a low-mass particle might free only one or two.

    Typical CCDs can measure the charge left behind only once, which makes it difficult to decide if a tiny energy signal from one or two electrons is real or an error.

    Skipper CCDs are a new generation of the technology that helps eliminate the “iffiness” of a measurement that has a one- or two-electron margin of error. “The big step forward for the skipper CCD is that we are able to measure this charge as many times as we want,” Tiffenberg says.

    The charge left behind in the skipper CCD can be sampled multiple times and then averaged, a method that yields a more precise measurement of the charge deposited in each pixel than the measure-one-and-done technique. That’s the rule of statistics: With more data, you get closer to a property’s true value.

    SENSEI scientists take advantage of the skipper CCD architecture, measuring the number of electrons in a single pixel a whopping 4000 times.

    “This is a simple idea, but it took us 30 years to get it to work,” Estrada says.

    From idea to reality to beyond

    A small SENSEI prototype is currently running at Fermilab in a detector hall 385 feet below ground, and it has demonstrated that this detector design will work in the hunt for dark matter.

    FNAL DAMIC

    Skipper CCD technology and SENSEI were brought to life by Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) funds at Fermilab and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). LDRD programs are intended to provide funding for development of novel, cutting-edge ideas for scientific discovery.

    The Fermilab LDRDs were awarded only recently—less than two years ago—but close collaboration between the two laboratories has already yielded SENSEI’s promising design, partially thanks to Berkeley lab’s previous work in skipper CCD design.

    Fermilab LDRD funds allow researchers to test the sensors and develop detectors based on the science, and the Berkeley Lab LDRD funds support the sensor design, which was originally proposed by Berkeley Lab scientist Steve Holland.

    “It is the combination of the two LDRDs that really make SENSEI possible,” Estrada says.

    Future SENSEI research will also receive a boost thanks to a recent grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    “SENSEI is very cool, but what’s really impressive is that the skipper CCD will allow the SENSEI science and a lot of other applications,” Estrada says. “Astronomical studies are limited by the sensitivity of their experimental measurements, and having sensors without noise is the equivalent of making your telescope bigger—more sensitive.”

    SENSEI technology may also be critical in the hunt for a fourth type of neutrino, called the sterile neutrino, which seems to be even more shy than its three notoriously elusive neutrino family members.

    A larger SENSEI detector equipped with more skipper CCDs will be deployed within the year. It’s possible it might not detect anything, sending researchers back to the drawing board in the hunt for dark matter. Or SENSEI might finally make contact with dark matter—and that would be SENSEI-tional.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
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