Daniel Grin Wins "New Initiative" Grant for Dark Matter Research
Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Daniel Grin was recognized by the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation with a $150,000 "New Initiative" grant for research on "Dark matter and the first galaxies."
The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation has awarded one of its four New Initiative grants to Daniel Grin, an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Haverford College, for a research project entitled “Dark matter and the first galaxies,” for which Grin is the principal investigator. The grant was jointly awarded to his co-investigator, Adam Lidz, an associate professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Pennsylvania.
The project models the impact of dark matter properties on the era when the first stars and galaxies formed. Compelling evidence indicates that dark matter makes up about 85 percent of the mass in the universe, but its properties have remained completely mysterious.
``If dark matter is made of ultra-light particles (called axions), their wave-like nature (including interference patterns) would be manifest on astronomical scales, delaying the formation of the first galaxies and changing how clustered they are in space,” says Grin. ``Just for context, it is usually assumed that dark matter is composed of particles with a mass that is a factor of 1 with 42 zeroes after it larger than the type we are testing.” `
`The goal of this project is to develop the tools needed to analyze incoming and future data from telescopes to test for the existence of this type of dark matter. This could come through direct detections of very early galaxies and their spatial distribution, or through the absorption of galaxy light by intervening hydrogen, whose clustering would be suppressed by ultra-light dark matter.”
Data gathered via the powerful, new, state-of-the-art JWST telescope will facilitate a more extensive and comparative investigation. ``It's a remarkable instrument,” says Grin. “It's going to see galaxies further back in time than almost any telescope that's preceded it, and it's going to find a lot of them. The galaxies seen by that telescope are going to be ones [that existed] 13.5 billion years ago. (The universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old!) And it turns out that when [galaxies] form, how many form, and whether or not they like to live near other galaxies actually depends on what the dark matter is made out of.’’
Grin will receive $150,000 in research funding over two years. His grant was part of $2 million distributed by the Kaufman Foundation for innovative, interdisciplinary scientific research at Pennsylvania universities.
New Investigator research grants empower scientists at the beginning of their careers to make a mark in their fields and address core principles in biology, physics, and chemistry or across the disciplinary boundaries of these fields.
The fund was established in 2005 through a $43 million bequest from Charles E. Kaufman, a long-time chemical engineer turned entrepreneur and investor. Upon his death in 2010, he left his fortune to the Foundation, of which $33 million was endowed to support fundamental scientific research in chemistry, biology, and physics at Pennsylvania institutions. Including this year’s grantmaking, the Foundation has awarded 91 grants totaling $18.6 million since 2013.
The scientific advisory board reviewed 128 inquiries from scientists at 39 colleges and universities. In addition to Grin’s research, the latest awards will support research at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pennsylvania, West Chester University, Chatham University, Dickinson College and Pennsylvania State University.
Grin says the grant will help fund the salary for a new post-doctoral fellow who will be based at Haverford and travel to Penn once a week. It will also provide funding for undergraduates at both institutions to work on the project and help build the connections between the institutions.
``This research is seeing galaxies from 13.5 billion years ago and figuring out whether there is a chance that the dark matter is composed of incredibly light particles,” says Grin. “There is so much to be learned!’’