Physicists developing a dark matter detector

ultra low temperature physics
PhD student Saba Khan with the ultra low temperature refrigerator used in the research

Lancaster University is leading a £500,000 project to develop a new type of detector to search for dark matter.

The project entitled “ParaPara: A quantum parametric amplifier using quantum paraelectricity” is led by Edward Laird, Yuri Pashkin, and Ian Bailey from Lancaster in collaboration with University College London.

Dr Laird said: “Dark matter is the undiscovered matter in galaxies, which has never been detected directly but that we know exists because we can see how it exerts a gravitational force.

“One leading hypothesis is that dark matter consists of an undiscovered particle called the axion. In this hypothesis, enormous numbers of axions formed shortly after the big bang, have collected in galaxies, and are now passing through our labs (and through us) at a rate of many trillions of particles per second.”

As part of the National Quantum Technologies Programme, Lancaster is already part of the Quantum Sensors for the Hidden Sector (QSHS) experiment that is under construction to search for these axions - low-mass 'hidden' particles, which may help solve the mystery of dark matter.

The ParaPara team will develop new types of ultra-low-noise quantum electronics to underpin the search for these hitherto undetected particles.

By exploiting the 'quantum paraelectric effect', the ParaPara team hope to develop amplifiers which can operate in the high magnetic fields found in a wide range of applications.

As well as for dark matter searches, these amplifiers could have applications in quantum computing and microscopy.

The Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics programme is delivered by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

The grants encourage high-risk discovery and aim to demonstrate how quantum tech can solve long-standing questions in fundamental physics.

Professor Grahame Blair, STFC Executive Director, Programmes, said: “This new cohort of projects should make a valuable contribution to our understanding of the universe using cutting-edge quantum tech such as quantum computing, imaging, sensing and simulations.

“The new grants continue to support the UK research community in exploring the diversity of quantum technology applications for fundamental science – from neutrino mass studies to searches for violations of fundamental symmetries of nature.”

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