Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2017

Mariangela Lisanti

Assistant Professor of Physics, Princeton University

Confronting the Dark Matter Paradigm: New Approaches for Direct and Indirect Detection

Dark matter comprises nearly 85 percent of the Universe’s matter density, and yet its basic properties remain a mystery because it does not interact with light. The Weakly Interacting Massive Particle (WIMP) has been the primary theoretical paradigm for dark matter, and is currently being put to the test by an extensive experimental program.

Meanwhile, however, Mariangela Lisanti, physics, Princeton University, has received a Cottrell Scholar Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to confront and to expand our thinking beyond the WIMP paradigm.

WIMPS are theorized to produce gamma rays when they collide in galaxies and are subsequently annihilated. Lisanti will work to improve sensitivity to signals of dark matter annihilation using several new analysis methods that distinguish emission of diffuse gamma rays from other astrophysical sources. She will use data from the Fermi Large Area Telescope to study the inner galaxy and high-latitude sky.

The tightening limits on WIMPs motivate careful consideration of alternate modes where the dark matter is much less massive. Many of the current detection strategies lose sensitivity to these less massive particles, necessitating a rethinking of the search program. Lisanti plans to develop new experimental approaches to extend the search for non-WIMP dark matter, specifically focusing on novel targets in which the dark matter can scatter off nuclei or electrons, resulting in a detectable signal.

In doing so she intends to take advantage of current and upcoming data from diverse experiments to shed light on dark matter and elucidate its particle and astrophysical properties.

There is also an education component to the Cottrell Scholar Award. Lisanti will use some of the funding to create a new freshman seminar that develops mathematical, computing and communication skills necessary for scientific research.

“All students accepted into the seminar will prepare to work with a physics faculty mentor on an independent summer research project,” she said. “The courses will be specifically designed to help prospective physics majors establish a peer and faculty support network.”

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