Awards Database

Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015

Kerstin M. Perez

Haverford College

Developing Novel Detectors to Search for the Particle Origins of Dark Matter with the GAPS Experiment

Verifying the existence of so-called “dark matter,” which is theorized to dominate the universe, is one of the most urgent projects in astrophysics.

That is why Kerstin Perez, assistant professor of physics at Haverford College, has received a Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) from Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), America’s second-oldest foundation and the first devoted wholly to science.

Perez is developing a procedure to fabricate sensors for the General Antiparticle Spectrometer (GAPS) experiment. GAPS uses long-duration balloons in the upper reaches of the atmosphere to search for antideuteron particles. They are a type of cosmic ray theorized to be produced by the self-annihilation of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) in the galactic halo. WIMPs are purely hypothetical at this point, but physicists believe that if they can be detected, it will clarify the nature of dark matter.

Many astrophysicists suspect that 80 percent of the matter in the universe is dark matter, and that only a small fraction of the universe is composed of what we consider to be ordinary, or baryonic, matter.

Perez notes that detecting the byproduct of WIMPS annihilation “is a fairly generic prediction of many dark matter models, such as supersymmetry and extra-dimensions, yet GAPS is the first experiment optimized specifically for this signature.”

She intends to create semiconducting silicon detectors to equip the GAPS balloons to be launched over Antarctica. The detectors would reveal X-rays with an energy signature produced by antideuterons.

The grant supports the detector R&D necessary to fine tune the fabrication procedure. This will be done with five students over two years; the final production of 1,300 detectors, about 110 square feet, will be done later.

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