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Dean of the NSU Physics Department: New Programs in Astronomy and the Search for Dark Matter

Dean of the NSU Physics Department: New Programs in Astronomy and the Search for Dark Matter

Alexander Bondar, Dean of the Physics Department at Novosibirsk State University, talks about a new course in astronomy for undergraduate students and other opportunities to study astronomy related disciplines at the Physics Department, including for international students, and the recent achievements of the NSU Laboratory of Cosmology and Elementary Particle Physics in the search for dark matter

The idea to teach a course in astronomy for undergraduate students of the Physics Department came from the students themselves. We decided that we should endorse this idea, especially since most of the research at the NSU Laboratory of Cosmology and Elementary Particle Physics (LCEP) is associated with astrophysics. We sent an invitation to Prof. Vladimir Surdin from Sternberg Astronomical Institute (Moscow), who is an excellent lecturer and a leading popularizer of astronomy in Russia. Professor Surdin was so kind as to accept our invitation and spent several months in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok as a visiting scholar.

Novosibirsk State University offers courses in astronomy and related disciplines for master-degree and PhD students. There is a range of elective courses taught by Prof. Alexander Dolgov, who is the head of the LCEP, and by Damian Ejlli, a visiting lecturer from the University of Ferrara (Italy). Our postgraduate students also have an opportunity to work with our Moscow colleagues from the Institute for Nuclear Research RAS and the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics.

In 2011, Novosibirsk State University received funding from the Russian government to support the research conducted by the leading scientist Prof. Alexander Dolgov in the field of astronomy and astrophysics. Within this project the university set up the Laboratory of Cosmology and Elementary Particle Physics; the experiments at the laboratory are aimed at the development of methods for the direct detection of dark matter

In addition, there are new opportunities for international students. Starting this year, the NSU Physics Department offers a PhD program on Astroparticle Physics, which will be taught in English.

I believe that our task in this area is not limited to training the future specialists for the LCEP. This would be too narrow a perspective. We teach our students, but then they can choose for themselves where to apply what they have learned. Of course, it would be great if some of the students choose to stay at the laboratory and contribute to the development of this research at NSU, but, again, we are training them to work for science, not for ourselves.

Speaking about the laboratory, it continues to work on an instrument for direct detection of dark matter particles. The development of science never follows a prearranged plan. The laboratory obtained new results in 2015, but this is, figuratively speaking, “prenatal” development. We have made good progress in understanding how to create a technique to search for dark matter, but we are still very far from creating a real detector for real search.

One of the results of our work, though not direct, is that a group of scientists from the LCEP were invited to participate in the international DarkSide collaboration, which seeks to directly detect dark matter. Our results associated with the development of a prototype detector that uses liquefied noble gases such as argon or neon as a working fluid were recognized by the main organizers of the project—the Gran Sasso National Laboratory (Italy), and we were invited to the project.

Today researchers at major science centers worldwide are designing detectors to capture the elusive dark matter particles by applying different physical principles. Siberian physicists are looking for is the so-called cold dark matter: having been slow at first, its particles have now accelerated in the galaxy’s gravitational field to one thousandth of the speed of light. The range of possible masses of these particles is extremely wide: they might be both three orders of magnitude heavier and twelve orders of magnitude lighter than protons. The majority of physicists believe that dark matter particles must be quite massive, but the Siberian physicists follow another hypothesis, according to which these particles are only two to ten times more massive than protons. The best way to search for dark matter particles is to use detectors based on liquefied noble gases, such as argon or neon. Read more 

Currently, we are co-writing the project specifications together with the other participants. The collaboration seeks to build the DarkSide detector, which will be located in the Alps at a depth of several kilometers underground and contain 20 tons of argon. I hope that here we will find exciting research opportunities and take part in a real large-scale experiment, which, in my view, looks very promising.

Original text prepared by Tatiana Morozova

Adapted by Alla Kobkova

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