Get Out of the Dark About Dark Matter!

Another CERN award winner and me (right) in front of the LHC!

Another CERN award winner and me (right) in front of the LHC!

Dark matter has been a source of intrigue for scientists long before it became exciting fodder for science fiction. Immortalized by popular shows such as Star Trek and Futurama as an efficient and powerful fuel source, the reality is much more rudimentary. Dark matter is essentially a component hypothesized to be a sort of “missing piece” giving galaxies more mass, thereby allowing them the extra gravity necessary to stay intact [1].

Even with recent increases in superconducting and telescopic technology, it has been incredibly difficult to detect dark matter. In contrast to “normal” matter, it doesn’t interact with electromagnetic forces. Without emitting or reflecting light, it is essentially invisible. Recently, however, there has been some breakthrough- the Antimatter Factory at CERN found results that indirectly pointed towards the existence of dark matter. As a result, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is being refitted to handle more dark matter research [2].

I got the opportunity to visit the Large Hadron Collider last June while I was spending a week at CERN with 10 other high-school researchers. Our anticipation was palpable; after all, the discovery of the Higgs particle had been breaking news then. While visiting the enormous 27km supercollider was an awe-inspiring experience, it was later, at the Antimatter Factory, where we really delved into the research on dark matter and antimatter. Scientists are increasing proton package sizes to generate more energy during these collisions. Their hope is to find the elusive lightweight particle, the product of dark matter decay. Researchers believe the implications for finding direct evidence supporting dark matter would be huge.

The Antimatter runs a number of smaller experiments, apart from utilizing the LHC.

The Antimatter runs a number of smaller experiments, apart from utilizing the LHC.

After spending a week at CERN learning about all the tangible physics in daily life, it is still the unknown that interests me. The one thing I have learned is that science is a fine blend of creativity and empirical data. In order to even begin to search for particles that don’t seem to exist, scientists had to employ all of their problem-solving skills. It showed me that research isn’t all about facts and data, but rather, finding unique solutions to difficult problems. As a little girl who grew up with an unhealthy obsession for Star Trek, all I can say is that unlocking the mystery behind dark matter may put me one step closer to eventually captaining my own spaceship among the stars.

References:

  1. “CERN Accelerating Science.” Dark Matter. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  1. Borrmann, Cornelia. “CERN: The Quest for Dark Matter | Sci-Tech | DW.COM | 14.06.2014.” DW.COM. N.p., 14 June 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Krithika Iyer is currently a junior in the IB World School at Plano East Senior High School. Apart from writing, she loves to conduct scientific research. Her projects include a Bayesian decision support system to reduce false positives in mammography and algorithms analyzing cancer genes and mutations. Based on these works, she has placed at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the Siemens Competition, and Broadcom MASTERS. As a budding social entrepreneur, she also runs her own nonprofit to increase access to education. In her free time, Krithika loves to read, play tennis, and update her blog.

Follow The Triple Helix Online on Twitter and join us on Facebook.