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Workshop Will Explore Novel Ideas for Dark Matter Searches

The University of Maryland will host a two-day meeting to evaluate new methods for detecting dark matter—the as-yet-unseen substance that makes up the bulk of the matter in the universe. The meeting will be held on campus Oct. 28-29, 2019.

“The search for dark matter is entering a new phase,” says Dan Carney, a co-organizer of the event and a postdoctoral researcher at the Joint Quantum Institute. “Our first guesses for where to look have not worked out, and we need new ideas.”

Named for its apparent reluctance to interact with ordinary matter, dark matter has eluded decades of targeted searches. Astrophysical evidence for it abounds, from the rotation rates of distant galaxies to the large-scale structure of the universe, but terrestrial experiments have so far come up empty.

Part of the problem is that the weak interactions that give dark matter its name also make it hard to detect, since detectors are made of ordinary matter. If dark matter is (as many suspect) made of particles that don’t react much to protons and electrons, then it’s hard to imagine how it could ever be detected.

Parallel to this hunt for dark matter, scientists have been steadily improving the accuracy of quantum sensors, which utilize some of the quirky features of quantum physics to make incredibly accurate measurements of position and time. With sensitivities now down to a billionth of a billionth of a meter, researchers have started to wonder if they might wield quantum sensors in the hunt for dark matter. After all, dark matter is still matter, and it might be detected by looking for minute changes in gravity, which could potentially open up a whole new front in the search.

Carney, together with several collaborators, co-organized an event to bring together experts from the particle physics and quantum sensing communities—two groups that don’t often collaborate—to discuss novel ways of building the next generation of dark matter detectors. Carney says the meeting, which is titled “Quantum Optomechanical Architectures for Dark Matter Detection,” will feature ample time for discussion, and he hopes that it will lead to a roadmap that charts a course toward new experiments.

“Quantum sensing techniques are our best methods for detecting faint signals, and dark matter is as faint as they come,” Carney says. “We're excited to get a group of experts together to explore ways to leverage this technology to help figure out what dark matter is really made of.”

Carney’s co-organizers are Cindy Regal, a quantum sensing experimentalist from JILA; Gordan Krnjaic, a particle physics theorist from Fermilab; and Dave More, a particle physics experimentalist and quantum sensing expert from Yale. The meeting is supported by the American Physical Society through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Fundamental Physics Innovation Awards.

Story by Chris Cesare