Awards Database

Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015

James Battat

Wellesley College

Improving Directional Dark Matter Detectors through Advanced Tracking and Genetically Multiplexed High Spatial Resolution Readouts

Astronomical observations provide overwhelming evidence that there is about five times more cold dark matter in the universe than ordinary matter. Trouble is, nobody has seen a single particle of dark matter up close; it doesn’t normally interact with regular matter, and therefore it has never been detected in the laboratory, even though, by some researchers’ thinking, at times the earth must be swimming through vast oceans of this mysterious substance.

James Battat, assistant professor of physics at Wellesley College, has received a Cottrell College Science Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to enhance his search for the by-products of rare interactions between dark matter and baryonic, or regular, matter. He will develop a new detection technique to look for recoiling atomic nuclei produced by collisions with dark matter particles.

“The Weakly Interacting Massive Particle, or WIMP, is a particularly likely dark matter candidate,” Battat says. (Purely theoretical at this point, WIMPs are thought to have been created when they fell out of thermal equilibrium with the hot dense plasma of the early universe and thus failed to become regular matter.) “The standard assumption is that a large spherical halo of WIMP dark matter extends far beyond the spiral arms of our Milky Way galaxy, and that the circular orbit of the Earth and Sun about the center of the galaxy drives us through this WIMP dark matter.”

As a result, Battat says, according to this theory the WIMPs have a tiny, though non-zero, probability of interacting with regular matter.

As a member of the ongoing Directional Recoil Identification from Tracks (DRIFT) collaboration, he intends to use the funding to contribute to the operation of an existing detector at the Boulby Underground Laboratory on the northeast coast of England. He said he will also develop an improved algorithm to extract potential collision patterns in the low-pressure gas detectors used in this research. And, finally, he hopes to build a more efficient type of gaseous detector. 

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