MODERATOR: David Kestenbaum
PARTICIPANTS: Elena Aprile, Glennys Farrar, Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, Katherine Freese, Jocelyn Monroe, Priyamvada Natarajan
PROGRAM DATE: Friday, June 3, 2011

Leading researchers have called this the ‘Decade of Dark Matter,’—the era in which data finally establish the identity of the universe’s unseen matter. As results are released, what will they tell us about our current theoretical models, and the properties of dark matter? What are the plans for new detection experiments? And if no dark matter is found, what then? Are there plans for more refined experiments? Will attention turn to maverick theories that seek to explain observations without invoking dark matter?

Some of the advanced topics to be explored may include: Annual modulation signals for dark matter; reconciling the CoGeNT, DAMA, CDMS and XENON experiments; the ICECUBE and DEEPCORE experiments; possible connections between dark matter and dark energy; modified gravity approaches.

World Science Festival Salons are an opportunity for in-depth conversations with world-leading scientists, extending the discussion of the Festival’s flagship public programs at a level appropriate for graduate students, postdocs, faculty and particularly well-informed members of the general public.

Related flagship program: The Dark Side of the Universe
Learn more about all the WSF Salons

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Correspondent, NPR

David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR’s multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way—by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.

In his years at NPR, David has covered science’s discoveries and its darker side, including the Northeast blackout, the anthrax attacks and the collapse of the New Orleans levees. He has also reported on energy issues, particularly nuclear and climate change.

David has won awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

David worked briefly on the show This American Life, and set up a radio journalism program in Cambodia on a Fulbright fellowship. He also teaches a journalism class at Johns Hopkins University.

David holds a bachelor’s of science degree in physics from Yale University and a doctorate in physics from Harvard University.


Experimental Astrophysicist

Elena Aprile is a professor of physics at Columbia University and is internationally recognized for her experimental work with noble liquid detectors for research in gamma-ray astrophysics and particle astrophysics. She is the founder and spokesperson of the XENON Dark Matter experiment, currently the most sensitive among direct searches for dark matter worldwide, and the one with the highest discovery potential. Aprile has pioneered the development of the liquid xenon imaging detector technology used in XENON and similar experiments. Her publications, review article in Review of Modern Physics, and book on the properties of liquid xenon for radiation detection are widely referred to.

She has served on numerous committees and panels, the last one being the National Academies Astronomy and Astrophysics 2010 Program Prioritization Panel on Particle Astrophysics and Gravitation (2009-2010). From experiments geared to answer fundamental questions—such as the nature of dark matter and the neutrino—to new devices with advanced capabilities in medical and industrial imaging, the kind of detector pioneered by Aprile during her long term at Columbia University will continue to play a vital role.

Theoretical Particle Physicist

Glennys Farrar is a collegiate professor of physics at New York University. She has made seminal contributions to theoretical particle physics, including demonstrating that quarks are not just mathematical constructs but are actually physically present in matter, and pioneering the search for supersymmetry (which provides the most popular candidate for dark matter and is a prime objective of the Large Hadron Collider). Farrar is particularly interested in the connection of dark matter to other puzzles in physics, such as the excess of matter over anti-matter—without which the Universe would be devoid of galaxies, stars and life—and the possibility that dark matter is actually ordinary matter on a “brane” separated from our own in some unseen, “extra” dimension.

Farrar also uses astrophysics and cosmology to address such fundamental questions. She and a graduate student are currently exploring the possible existence of a new force that may act on dark matter particles but not ordinary matter, by analyzing observations of the merger of two massive clusters of galaxies. Recently, she and her collaborators achieved the first optical detection of the “stellar tidal disruption” phenomenon, with two examples of supermassive black holes tearing a passing star to shreds, releasing a brilliant burst of light that lasts a few months. Further study of this phenomenon promises to elucidate important questions in cosmology, astrophysics and physics.

The first woman to get a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University, Farrar served as chair of the Physics Department at NYU and was founder and first director of its Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics. She has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and on the faculty of Caltech, has spent sabbatical years at CERN, Princeton, and Harvard among other appointments, and serves on numerous advisory panels and editorial boards.

Experimental Astroparticle Physicist

MIT physicist Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano works at the intersection of cosmology, particle physics, astronomy, and engineering. His research looks for insight into the building blocks of the universe, from the fundamental particles that make up dark matter to the raw elements that combine to form stars, planets, and people.

As an experimental physicist, he is involved in underground and space-borne projects aimed at discovering the nature of dark matter, elucidating the creation and cycles of “normal” matter, and understanding their roles in the formation of the structures that make up our Universe.

Theoretical Astrophysicist, Author

Physicist Katherine Freese works on a wide range of topics in theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics. A focus of her research has been the attempt to resolve the mystery of the dark matter and dark energy that permeates our universe. She is also working to build a successful model of the early universe immediately after the big bang.

Freese has shown that most of the mass in galaxies does not consist of ordinary stellar material, and has proposed ways to look for alternatives such as supersymmetric particles motivated by particle theory. Currently, there is a great deal of excitement surrounding the possible detections of these particles in a variety of experiments worldwide and in space. Most recently, Freese proposed that Dark Stars powered by dark matter are the first stars to form in the universe.

Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan and the Associate Director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics.

Particle Physicist

Jocelyn Monroe is an assistant professor of physics in MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science who works on experimental searches for new particles. Her current research focus is on directly detecting dark matter particle interactions with the MiniCLEAN and DMTPC experiments. Jocelyn was a Pappalardo post-doctoral fellow at MIT until 2009, working on directional dark matter with DMTPC, and on seeking exotic particle participants in solar neutrino oscillations with the SNO experiment. Jocelyn earned her PhD from Columbia University in 2006; her dissertation research was on the MiniBooNE neutrino oscillation experiment with advisor Professor Michael Shaevitz. In 1999-2000 Jocelyn held the position of engineering physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, where she studied the physics of muon beam cooling. Jocelyn earned her BA in astrophysics at Columbia University in 1999.

Cosmologist, Theoretical Astrophysicist

Priyamvada Natarajan is a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University. Natarajan’s research is focused on exotica in the universe—dark matter, dark energy, and black holes. She is noted for her key contributions to two of the most challenging problems in cosmology: mapping the distribution of dark matter and tracing the growth history of black holes. Her work using gravitational lensing has provided a deeper understanding of the granularity of dark matter in clusters of galaxies and offers a novel way to unravel the nature of dark matter. She also works on the assembly and accretion history of black holes. Deeply invested in the public dissemination of science and a fervent proponent of numerical literacy, she is also a published poet. Along with her academic position at Yale, Natarajan holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship at the Dark Center, Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.