The hunt for dark matter in our universe

Barry Barish wants to build the largest science instrument in history to aid in his search for dark matter. Barish, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, explained that dark matter is a unique kind of matter – stuff – believed to make up a significant portion of the universe.

Barry Barish: Twenty-five percent of the universe is made up of dark matter. All the things, like us, make up one percent or less.

The trouble is, dark matter has never been directly observed, with a telescope or any other device. To see dark matter, said Dr. Barish, scientists will have to build the world’s biggest particle accelerator. Barish is leading the effort to design this instrument, called the International Linear Collider.

Barry Barish It’s a machine that will collide electrons and positrons.

These charged particles will slam into each other inside a tunnel 30 kilometers – or about 19 miles – long. Dr. Barish said this is what’s needed to create the right test conditions to observe dark matter. He added that the International Linear Collider is still in the planning stages, and he thinks it might be 2025 before it’s built.

Barry Barish If we can finally see dark matter, we’ll have a new way to look at the universe that involves a whole set of elements, particles, that we really don’t have on our shelf yet.

Dr. Barish told EarthSky what he thought was the most important thing people should know about the International Linear Collider.

Barry Barish: Science has moved to a stage where, although it’s very attractive to think of people going in their laboratories and doing a small experiment, making a great invention, and a great discovery, much of the advances in science over the last tens of years, and I think in the future, are going to require very, very large instruments. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s astronomy, or physics, or maybe some other fields, And so what is going to have to be done is to admit that we’re already making things on the scale of billions of dollars, and make a very good choice of what’s the best ones to do, because that obviously strains any budgets, world-wide budgets, they have to be done internationally. And they have to be done picking the best science. I think the International Linear Collider, as of what I can see today, would compete very well with anything that’s being thought of.

August 23, 2010

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