SMU Physics

SMU Physics celebrates Dark Matter Days with a Halloween hunt, Oct. 29-31, 2017

Students paint rocks for Dark Matter Day 2017 at SMU

SMU physics students paint “dark matter” rocks for a Halloween hunt. Jasmine Liu, Christina McConville, Jared Burleson, Taylor Wallace, Bibi Schindler and Elijah Cruda took part.

This Halloween, SMU joins a worldwide celebration of the mysterious substance that permeates our universe: dark matter.

The Department of Physics in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences has planned a Dark Matter Day celebration – complete with a campus-wide hunt for “dark matter” rocks – and the entire community is invited to join in.

Each Oct. 31, science enthusiasts the world over celebrate “the hunt for the unseen” – the elusive matter that makes up much of the total mass and energy of the universe. Scientists don’t know if dark matter consists of undiscovered particles, or if it can be explained with known physics – but understanding it is key to unlocking the structure of the cosmos.

> Learn more about Dark Matter Day at its official website: DarkMatterDay.com

On Sunday, Oct. 29, the department hosts a free public lecture for lay audiences by Maruša Bradač, associate professor, University of California-Davis. The talk begins at 4 p.m. in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall, followed by a reception with beverages and light snacks at 5-6 p.m. in the Dallas Hall Rotunda.

SMU’s resident dark-matter expert, Associate Professor of Physics Jodi Cooley, presents a free public lecture for audiences familiar with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, in 158 Fondren Science Building.

#SMUDarkMatterOn Halloween, Tuesday, Oct. 31, the Dark Matter Rock Hunt begins. The Department of Physics has hidden 26 “dark matter rocks” around the SMU main campus; finders can collect special prizes from the Physics Department office in 102 Fondren Science. The hunt is free and open to the public and will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Anyone who discovers a rock painted with a dark matter message on the SMU campus is encouraged to tweet a selfie with their rock and tag it #SMUDarkMatter.

> Follow @SMUPhysics on Twitter

“In the spirit of science being a pursuit open to all, we are excited to invite the public to become dark matter hunters for a day,”  Cooley says. “Explore the campus in the search for dark matter rocks, just as physicists are exploring the cosmos in the hunt for the nature of dark matter itself.”

Cooley is part of a 100-person international experiment team that uses ultra-pure materials and highly sensitive custom-built detectors to listen for the passage of dark matter at SNOLAB, an underground science laboratory in Ontario, Canada.

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Jodi Cooley explains dark matter and its place in the universe in this video. Tap the YouTube screen to watch, or click here to open the Dark Matter Day 2017 video in a new windowvideo

Research: New detector for neutrino research represents next frontier in particle physics

 

SMU is one of more than 100 institutions from around the world building hardware for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) – a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe.

Construction for the particle detector will take years and scientists expect to begin taking data in the middle of the next decade, said SMU physicist Thomas E. Coan, a professor in the SMU Department of Physics and a researcher on the experiment. The groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday, July 21, 2017 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota.

The LBNF will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Called DUNE for short, it will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries, including Coan.

When complete, LBNF/DUNE will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of the mysterious particles, which could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.

“DUNE is designed to investigate a broad swath of the properties of neutrinos, one of the universe’s most abundant but still mysterious electrically neutral particles,” Coan said.

The experiment seeks to understand strange phenomena like neutrinos changing identities — called “oscillation” — in mid-flight and the behavioral differences between a neutrino an its anti-neutrino sibling, Coan said.

“A crisp understanding of neutrinos holds promise for understanding why any matter survived annihilation with antimatter from the Big Bang to form the people, planets and stars we see today,” Coan said. “DUNE is also able to probe whether or not the humble proton, found in all atoms of the universe, is actually unstable and ultimately destined to eventually decay away. It even has sensitivity to undertanding how stars explode into supernovae by studying the neutrinos that stream out from them during the explosion.”

— Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

SMU Physics will project solar eclipse into Dallas Hall Rotunda on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

SMU physics professors have devised a remarkable way to watch next Monday’s historic solar eclipse: They will use mirrors to turn the historic Dallas Hall Rotunda into a giant viewing chamber.

Weather permitting, Associate Professor of Physics Stephen Sekula will host for students and the public a homebrew viewing tunnel attached to a telescope on the lawn of Dallas Hall. The total eclipse of the sun will take place on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. The Rotunda event is sponsored by SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and the Department Physics.

The Rotunda image and the viewing tunnel will provide crisp images of the eclipse, and also correspond to NASA’s recommendation to avoid looking directly at the sun, Sekula said. Both methods eliminate the need for certified glasses to avoid eye damage. A surge in demand has made authentic safety glasses hard to find.

“There’s no sense risking your vision, and so this way you can come out and enjoy the eclipse without damaging your eyes,” he said.

Dallas is in the secondary shadow of the eclipse, not the primary shadow, so the region will not see the total phase of the eclipse, but rather 75 percent coverage.

“That’s still quite spectacular,” Sekula said, noting that peak viewing will be around 1:09 p.m. The partial eclipse begins in Dallas at 11:40 a.m. and ends at 2:39 p.m., according to NASA.

Wherever you and your students view the 2017 solar eclipse, don’t forget to observe these safety protocols, shared by SMU Health:

On Monday, Aug. 21, a historic total solar eclipse of the sun will be partially visible in North Texas from about 11:40 a.m. to about 2:40 p.m.  NASA offers recommendations for safely viewing the event because of the potential dangers it poses to eyesight if precautions are not taken. Please see NASA.gov for information.

SMU Dedman College Solar Eclipse Event