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IUSB receives grant money for dark matter research


Staff Writer

The next great discovery in the world of physics just might happen in the basement of Northside Hall.

Ilan Levine has been a professor of physics at IU South Bend since 2004. He is leading a group of students on a project with the hope to learn more on the concept of dark matter. Dark matter makes up 85% of the mass of the universe, but we cannot see it. This means that everything we see in the universe is only about 15% of the total mass. The reason we know so little about dark matter is due to the fact that it reacts with atoms very weakly, this makes it difficult to study.

Levine’s team consists of engineer, Ed Behnke, as well as  undergraduate students: Alexandria Weesner, Trace Karnitz, Paige Oedekerk and Nathan Walkowski.

Weesner, a junior at IU South Bend, recently spent her summer at Louisiana State University, where she worked in a lab that detects gravitational waves.

IU South Bend’s program is part of a larger project called the PICO Project. It consists of 19 universities in the United States, Canada, Spain, Czech Republic, Mexico and India, all using different methods to discover more about dark matter. The project also includes national laboratories who are tasked with building large bubble chambers to increase the likelihood of finding dark matter.

The program recently has been granted $770,500 from the National Science Foundation to fund the PICO project. This grant is split between IU South Bend, Penn State and Northeastern Illinois University.

Levine and his team are looking to find dark matter through a method that involves putting normal atoms in a superheated liquid. They then use a device that monitors the atoms to see if any of them come in contact with a dark matter particle. The team can then measure those reactions should they occur.

Levine has also been developing acoustic transducers, which measure the sound of the transition between the liquid and gas states of atoms.

“In 2008, we discovered the sound that comes from a bubble that is made from dark matter is quite different from the sound that comes from background radioactivity,” said Levine.

According to Levine, these acoustic transducers are essential to discovering dark matter.

Levine believes the discovery of dark matter will put us much closer to what scientists call the “Theory of Everything.” If dark matter is discovered the first thing scientists will do is study its properties.

When asked about what the discovery of dark matter would mean for the science community Levine said, “All of those properties will inform us on how we have to change our laws of particle physics to accommodate this undescribed particle.”

Over the next six months to a year, the lab in the basement of Northside will be gathering data to see if their method is promising enough to be used on a larger scale.

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