Filmmaker joins Ultra-Low Temperature Physics team in the hunt for dark matter

Dr Joshua Chawner and Dr Dmitry Zmeev filming the interview for the documentary

Liverpool-based physicist-turned-science-filmmaker Dr Joshua Chawner recently paid a visit to Lancaster’s Ultra Low Temperature labs to interview dark matter researcher Dr Dmitry Zmeev for a documentary, which will be shown at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London.

Dark matter is one of the most mysterious phenomena in our universe; at present, there is no consensus as to what it is, or if it really exists. Physicists around the world have been attempting for years to both prove its existence, as well as determine what dark matter is made up of, as currently dark matter has only been evidenced indirectly, believed to be a fundamental particle (or particles) present since the beginning of the universe, and notable for interacting with standard matter only extremely weakly.

The film centres on two experiments being worked on by Lancaster physicists – QUEST-DMC (led by Royal Holloway University of London) and QSHS (which is led by the University of Sheffield). Both experiments are searching for evidence of dark matter through the use of quantum technologies, but are taking vastly different approaches to the search. QUEST is probing into whether dark matter might actually be weakly interactive massive particles (WIMPS for short). By cooling superfluid Helium 3 to within a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, the QUEST team can look for evidence of WIMPs in interactions within the nucleus of the helium atoms, using quantum technologies to measure tiny changes in the helium’s temperature.

The QSHS experiment on the other hand, considers whether dark matter could be made of particles known as axions. Little is known about axions, but if they do exist, physicists know that if they were to pass through an electromagnetic field, a number of them would be converted into photons – particles of light. The QSHS team are using a light-tight container and strong electromagnets to see if axions exist – and therefore comprise at least a portion of the potential dark matter around us.

The documentary explores these two experiments in a fun and accessible way for the general public, incorporating interviews with researchers working on the experiments with Dr Chawner’s signature LEGO stop-motion animations. Dr Chawner – a former PhD student at Lancaster – has made a name for himself in the science film industry, having won a number of prestigious Indie film awards for his video on the World’s “Coolest” Lego, and showcased his work at film festivals across the globe. In addition to interviewing Dr Zmeev, Dr Chawner has also been on location at the The Royal Society and University of Sheffield, interviewing counterparts from the Universities of Oxford and Sheffield about their involvement in QUEST and QSHS.

Both of these experiments – and the documentary about them – will be featured at the annual Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition hosted in London between 2nd and 7th July. The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is a prestigious, free-to-attend event, showcasing the very best of UK scientific research to upwards of 15,000 children and young people.

On the making of the documentary, Dr Chawner said: “I hope to see the film highlight new and exciting developments in the hunt for dark matter, and showcase the incredible people and experiments working towards this big discovery. I believe the film will demonstrate to the public how wonderful and mysterious the universe is and generate curiosity to learn more”.

Dr Zmeev added that “it was an absolute delight discussing our Lancaster-based research with Josh, an acclaimed director renowned for his distinctive style. A few years ago, we collaborated on a film showcasing our research with Josh, and it was met with tremendous success. I am filled with anticipation that this new cinematic journey will share the thrill of quantum physics and its potential to address problems of truly cosmic proportions, and will captivate audiences worldwide.”

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