December 1, 2022

Searching the Cosmos for Signs of Dark Matter

” There require to be more constructing blocks than the ones we understand about,” states the particle physicist.

Kerstin Perez is looking for imprints of dark matter. The invisible substance embodies 84 percent of the matter in the universe and is believed to be an effective cosmic glue, keeping entire galaxies from spinning apart. And yet, the particles themselves leave barely a trace on regular matter, warding off all efforts at detection thus far.
Perez, a particle physicist at MIT, is hoping that a high-altitude balloon experiment, to be introduced into the Antarctic stratosphere in late 2022, will catch indirect indications of dark matter, in the particles that it leaves behind. Such a discover would considerably illuminate dark matters elusive nature.
The experiment, which Perez co-leads, is the General AntiParticle Spectrometer, or GAPS, a NASA-funded objective that aims to detect items of dark matter annihilation. When 2 dark matter particles collide, its believed that the energy of this interaction can be converted into other particles, including antideuterons– particles that then ride through the galaxy as cosmic rays which can permeate Earths stratosphere. If antideuterons exist, they must originate from all parts of the sky, and Perez and her coworkers are hoping GAPS will be at just the best altitude and level of sensitivity to discover them.
” We determine a lot about deep space, but we also understand were totally missing out on huge portions of what deep space is made of,” Kerstin Perez says. Credit: Adam Glanzman.
” If we can convince ourselves thats truly what were seeing, that could help point us in the direction of what dark matter is,” says Perez, who was awarded tenure this year in MITs Department of Physics.
In addition to GAPS, Perez work centers on developing methods to search for dark matter and other exotic particles in supernova and other astrophysical phenomena caught by ground and area telescopes.
” We determine so much about deep space, but we likewise know were completely missing substantial portions of what deep space is made from,” she states. “There require to be more developing blocks than the ones we understand about. And Ive chosen different speculative techniques to go after them.”.
Building up.
Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Perez was a self-described “indoor kid,” mostly into arts and crafts, drawing and design, and building.
” I had two glue weapons, and I remember I entered into building doll-houses, not due to the fact that I cared about dolls a lot, however due to the fact that it was a thing you could build and buy,” she remembers.
Her plans to pursue arts deviated in her junior year, when she attended her first physics class. Material that was challenging for her schoolmates came more naturally to Perez, and she signed up the next year for both physics and calculus, taught by the exact same instructor with infectious wonder.
” One day he did a derivation that took up two-thirds of the board, and he stood back and said, Isnt that so stunning? I cant remove it. And he drew a frame around it and worked for the rest of the class because tiny third of the board,” Perez recalls. “It was that sort of enthusiasm that came throughout to me.”.
So buoyed, she set off after high school for Columbia University, where she pursued a major in physics. Wanting experience in research study, she offered in a nanotechnology lab, imaging carbon nanotubes.
” That was my turning point,” Perez recalls. “All my background in structure, creating, and wanting to design things came together in this physics context. After that, I was offered on experimental physics research.”.
She also took place to take a modern-day physics course taught by MITs Janet Conrad, who was then a teacher at Columbia. The class presented trainees to particle physics and the experiments underway to discover dark matter and other exotic particles. The detector generating one of the most buzz was CERNs Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. The LHC was to be the largest particle accelerator worldwide, and was anticipated imminently to come online.
After graduating from Columbia, Perez flew west to Caltech, where she had the opportunity to go to CERN as part of her graduate work. That experience was invaluable, as she assisted to calibrate among the LHCs pixel detectors, which is developed to determine common, widely known particles.
” That experience taught me, when you initially turn on your instrument, you have to make certain you can determine the important things you know are there, actually well, prior to you can declare youre taking a look at anything brand-new,” Perez says.
Front of the class.
After ending up her work at CERN, she began to turn over an originality. While the LHC was created to synthetically smash particles together to look for dark matter, smaller tasks were pursuing the very same particles in space, their natural surroundings.
” All the proof we have of dark matter originates from astrophysical observations, so it makes good sense to look out there for clues,” Perez states. “I desired the opportunity to, from scratch, basically design and build an experiment that might inform us something about dark matter.”.
With this concept, she returned to Columbia, where she joined the core team that was working to get the balloon experiment GAPS off the ground. As a postdoc, she developed a cost-efficient approach to make the experiments more than 1,000 silicon detectors, and has actually considering that continued to lead the experiments silicon detector program. Then in 2015, she accepted a faculty position at Haverford College, near her home town.
” I was there for one-and-a-half years, and definitely enjoyed it,” Perez says.
While at Haverford, she dove into not only her physics research, but likewise teaching. The college used a program for professors to assist enhance their lectures, with each teacher meeting weekly with an undergrad who was trained to offer and observe feedback on their mentor design. Perez was paired with a female student of color, who one day shown her a less than inviting experience she had actually experienced in an introductory course, that ultimately prevented her from stating a computer system science major.
Listening to the trainee, Perez, who has typically been the only lady of color in innovative physics classes, labs, speculative groups, and faculty lineups, acknowledged a kinship, and a calling. From that point on, in addition to her physics work, she began to explore a brand-new instructions of research: belonging.
She reached out to social psychologists to understand concerns of diversity and inclusion, and the systemic elements contributing to underrepresentation in physics, computer technology, and other STEM disciplines. She likewise collaborated with educational scientists to develop classroom practices to motivate belonging amongst students, with the inspiration of keeping underrepresented students.
In 2016, she accepted an offer to sign up with the MIT physics faculty, and brought with her the work on inclusive teaching that she started at Haverford. At MIT, she has balanced her research study in particle physics with teaching and with developing a more inclusive class.
” Its simple for instructors to think, I have to entirely revamp my syllabus and turn my classroom, however I have a lot research, and teaching is a small part of my task that frankly is not rewarded a great deal of the time,” Perez says. “But if you take a look at the research study, it does not take a lot. Its the small things we do, as teachers who are at the front of the class, that have a big impact.”.


Kerstin Perez is searching for imprints of dark matter. The experiment, which Perez co-leads, is the General AntiParticle Spectrometer, or GAPS, a NASA-funded objective that aims to discover products of dark matter annihilation. And he drew a frame around it and worked for the rest of the class in that tiny third of the board,” Perez recalls. Perez was paired with a female trainee of color, who one day shared with her a less than welcoming experience she had experienced in an introductory course, that eventually discouraged her from stating a computer system science major.
” Its simple for trainers to believe, I have to completely revamp my curriculum and flip my classroom, however I have so much research, and mentor is a little part of my job that frankly is not rewarded a lot of the time,” Perez states.

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