Hunting for Dark Matter with the XENON Project

  • Speaker
  • Elena Aprile, Ph.D.Professor, Physics, Columbia University
Date & Time


About Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Mathematics and Physical Sciences lectures are open to the public and are held at the Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium at the Simons Foundation headquarters in New York City. Tea is served prior to each lecture.

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What is the dark matter that makes up 85 percent of the universe’s mass? Scientists have been asking this question for decades and have employed a variety of experimental approaches, both on Earth and in space, to answer it. Yet, the nature of dark matter remains a mystery.

In this lecture, Elena Aprile will discuss the latest efforts to illuminate the nature of dark matter. An answer to this fundamental question will likely come from ongoing and future searches with accelerators, indirect and direct detection. Detection of a dark matter signal in an ultra-low background terrestrial detector will provide the most direct evidence of dark matter’s existence and will represent a ground-breaking discovery in physics and cosmology. Aprile will focus on the XENON project and its prospects to continue to be at the forefront of dark matter direct detection in the coming decade. Among the variety of dark matter detectors, liquid xenon time projection chambers have shown to be the most sensitive, thanks to a combination of large target mass, ultra-low background and excellent signal-to-noise discrimination. Experiments based on this technology have led the field for the past decade.

About the Speaker

Aprile is a professor of physics at Columbia University. After obtaining her undergraduate degree in physics in Naples, Italy, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Geneva. Aprile started her research on noble liquid imaging detectors under the mentorship of Carlo Rubbia, first as a student at CERN and later as a postdoc at Harvard University. At Columbia, she pioneered the development of a Compton telescope for gamma-ray astrophysics based on a liquid xenon time projection chamber. She later turned her attention to the dark matter question and proposed the XENON project. She founded the XENON Dark Matter Collaboration in 2002 and has served as its scientific spokesperson ever since. Her international team includes more than 170 scientists and students representing 24 nationalities and 22 institutions. Aprile has been a principal investigator on more than 20 research grants worth nearly $30 million over the last three decades and holds a patent (jointly with her graduate student Danli Chen) for a vacuum ultraviolet light source.

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