Jun. 19th, 2009

Old School

Jun. 19th, 2009 08:41 am
There are some things I really love, like when scientists put old-school methods to new and interesting purposes.

In that vein, I just heard about a group in Japan that is using emulsions to do dark matter detection. (paper here) This is basically the physics equivalent of saying you're going to fire up your vacuum tubes to surf the internet. It's Steampunk Science.

An emulsion detector is essentially a type of photographic plate (well...cube, really) in which some material is exposed to some particles and the particles interact with the material and leave tracks which can be reconstructed after development of the emulsion. Now, emulsions were popular in the middle of the last century to do collider and nuclear physics; you could track the stuff coming out of a collision. They got outmoded as electronics got more sophisticated and as speed of reconstruction became a bigger deal.

However, because dark matter events are rare (by, you know, definition) emulsions are a reasonable way to look for these things. And so this group has revived this old technology and improved it by increasing the granularity of the detector and developing an automatic scanning technique so they can detect the short tracks from dark matter and reconstruct the direction. And a cool thing about dark matter is that there is a prediction for a preferred direction for dark matter recoils; because of the rotation of the galaxy, dark matter should look like a wind blowing in one direction. So if you can reconstruct the direction, you get a much, much better handle on whether what you're seeing in the is dark matter.

Now, who knows if this'll work out in the long run. There are several other directional experiments in the works. But I do love and respect how this group has learned from the past and repurposed it for the future.

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