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A new way of looking for dark matter reveals the properties of hidden materials



A new way of looking for dark matter reveals the properties of hidden materials

New research conducted by Chalmers and ETH Zurich, Switzerland, suggests a promising way to detect elusive dark matter particles through previously unexplored atomic responses occurring in the detector material. The illustration above is a composite (optical, X-ray, computed dark matter) image of the mass distribution in the projectile cluster of galaxies. Credits: Chandra X-Ray Observatory, NASA / CXC / M. Weiss / Wikimedia Commons

New research from Chalmers, along with ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, suggests a promising way to detect elusive dark matter particles through unexplored atomic responses occurring in the detector material.

The new calculations allow theorists to make detailed predictions about the nature and strength of dark matter-electron interactions, which were previously not possible.

“Our new research on these atomic responses reveals properties of materials that have remained hidden until now. It has not been possible to investigate them using any of the particles available to us today, only dark matter could reveal them,”

; says Riccardo Catena, Associate Professor at the Department of Physics in Chalmers.

For every star, galaxy, or cloud of dust visible in space, there is five times more invisible material: dark matter. Discovering ways to detect these unknown particles that form such a significant part of the Milky Way is therefore a top priority in astroparticle physics. In the global search for dark matter, large detectors have been built underground to try to catch particles as they bounce off atomic nuclei.

So far, these mysterious particles have escaped detection. According to the Chalmers researchers, a possible explanation could be that dark matter particles are lighter than protons and therefore do not cause nuclei to recoil: imagine a ping pong ball colliding with a bowling ball. A promising way to overcome this problem could therefore be to shift the focus from nuclei to electrons, which are much lighter.

In their recent paper, the researchers describe how dark matter particles can interact with electrons in atoms. They suggest that the rate at which dark matter can eject electrons from atoms depends on four independent atomic responses, three of which were previously unidentified. They calculated the ways in which the electrons in argon and xenon atoms, used in today’s largest detectors, should respond to dark matter.

The results were recently published in the journal Physical Review Research and performed as part of a new collaboration with condensed matter physicist Nicola Spaldin and his team at ETH. Their predictions can now be tested in dark matter observatories around the world.

“We have tried to remove as many barriers to entry as possible. The paper is published in a fully open access journal and the scientific code to calculate the new atomic response functions is open source, for anyone to take a look at.” under the hood ‘of our article, “says Timon Emken, postdoctoral researcher in the dark matter group at the Chalmers Department of Physics.


Physicists explain the mysterious shortage of dark matter in the pair of galaxies


More information:
Riccardo Catena et al. Atomic responses to general dark matter-electron interactions, Physical Review Research (2020). DOI: 10.1103 / PhysRevResearch.2.033195

Supplied by
Chalmers University of Technology




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A new way of searching for dark matter reveals the properties of hidden materials (2020, September 16)
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