Physics & Astronomy, Academics, Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity

Is it just me or does Dark Matter Summer School sound like something out a Harry Potter book?

DMSS is neither Potter-related nor sinister; it’s actually a way for physics students – including a squad from Siena – to get up-to-speed on the latest research developments on this elusive form of matter, which is invoked to explain the motion of stars in galaxies, galaxies in clusters, and even the temperature distribution of light from the earliest times of the universe.

Matt Bellis, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, gave the overview talk that kicked off a week of learning for graduate and undergraduate students. DMSS was held across town at the University at Albany and funded by the National Science Foundation.

 “For all that we can see its effects, scientists have not actually detected dark matter, nor do we understand what it is,” said Bellis. “That’s a significant swing-and-a-miss for something that makes up 75 percent of the matter in our galaxy.”

Before heading to DMSS, Cassandra Billings ’21 and Vanessa Havens ’21 completed their own summer research here at Siena, supported by Tech Valley Scholars and Siena’s Center for Undergraduate Research Creative Activity (CURCA), respectively. Billings worked with Bellis and Lauren Pecora '21 to develop a device and procedure that would allow scientists to measure and characterize the amount of aerosols in the air, a potential background for some dark matter experiments. 

“The Summer School was such an incredible opportunity,” said Billings. “The entire week was well thought out and convivial.  Being a sophomore among graduate students and upper level undergraduate students was not as intimidating as I had thought; everyone was kind and open-minded.” 

Havens, who called the DMSS week “an amazing experience,” worked at UAlbany this summer with fellow Siena student Thi My Phung Thai '21, prototyping novel dark matter detectors that use super-heated water. This is part of a new collaboration between Siena and UAlbany and has the potential to lead to a publication for them in the coming year.

Also attending DMSS was Siena alumna Amanda Depoian '17, who just completed her first year of grad school in physics at Purdue University. She has been doing research with a principal investigator on XENON, one of the world's leading dark matter experiments. 

“DMSS was an intense week of lectures and presentations,” said Depoian. “I gained a broader understanding of dark matter research, from theory to experiment, which I’m now able to take back with me to Purdue and apply to my research. I was able to use the communication and presentation skills I learned from my time at Siena to convey my research to others.”

Experts from MIT, Brown, Princeton, Fermilab and other universities and labs gave lectures on the latest results in the field as well what might be around the corner in terms of experimental and theoretical developments. The students, who came from around the U.S. and Europe, had the opportunity to get a broad picture of this field, so that they might make their own scientific contributions.

Participants were required to give a talk on their own research and also had the chance to sit down in small groups with all the lecturers.