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Shedding Light on Dark Matter

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 1, 2018) — Among the untold number of planets, solar systems and galaxies, there are basic rules about energy, gravity, mass and light that help physicists explain the very nature of the universe. But for every question physics can answer, puzzles still remain, such as what causes the peculiar rotation of galaxies.

Since 1970, the prevailing theory is that the universe is a lot more massive than what we can see and about 25 percent of it is made up of invisible matter, aptly dubbed dark matter.

While we can indirectly see its presence in the way galaxies hold their form or how light bends throughout the universe, what makes up this dark matter is still a mystery. The search for dark matter particles is one of today’s hottest topics in particle physics, and many experiments are hunting for it, hoping to see a hint of dark matter particles in their detectors.

UAlbany’s Department of Physics recently hosted a Dark Matter Summer School for high level undergraduates and graduate students to explore issues related to dark matter, such as where dark matter is in the Milky Way; how can we detect dark matter, either directly, indirectly or at CERN’s large hadron collider; what are the theories behind dark matter; and how neutrinos influence dark matter searches. The program was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“I wanted to give students the same opportunities I had when I was starting in the field. It is not often that you can sit in a room, in a low-key and friendly environment, and discuss with renowned world experts about your research.” said Assistant Professor of Physics Cecilia Levy, who was the main organizer of the event.

Receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Muenster (Germany), Levy has been in the field of dark matter since she was a senior undergraduate student, and is now part of the LZ dark matter experiment, run by the U.S. Department of Energy. Given the sensitivity limitations of today’s detectors, Levy’s research focuses on improving current detectors and developing new techniques for future experiments.

She made a point of encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to attend the school, and to provide a forum for hearing a cross section of theories and ideas regarding current and future dark matter research. With women accounting for roughly half the symposium attendees, this was one of the many ways in which the symposium was a widespread success.

Students attending the program represented 17 different institutions, from four countries and across two continents. Included among the presenters and attendees were students and faculty from Brown, MIT, Fermilab, Princeton and Brandeis, as well as local students from RPI, Siena and UAlbany.

Levy was joined on the organizing committee by UAlbany Assistant Professor Matthew Szydagis, along with Associate Professor Matthew Bellis of Siena College and Assistant Professor Ethan Brown of RPI.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.