MCubed recently approved two University of Michigan projects proposed by Physics Professors Gregory Tarlé and David Gerdes through MCubed – a new seed-funding program developed at the University of Michigan to stimulate and support innovative research. To qualify, one University investigator proposes a project and can invite two or more collaborators from different disciplines to join the project and form a cube. Approved cubes receive $60,000 to hire one graduate student, undergraduate student, or postdoctoral researcher, and research can begin.

In the Dark
Physics Professor Gregory Tarlé proposed the cube, “In the Dark” with collaborators Arthur F Thurnau Professor and Professor of Art Jim Cogswell from the Penny W Stamps School of Art & Design and Professor of Performing Arts Technology Stephen Rush from Music, Theatre & Dance. “In the Dark” is a collaboration to produce a multimedia event based on the principle of dark energy. The project synthesizes dance, video, digital imagery, music and art to transport audiences to unfamiliar territory. Surrounded by video projections with dancers moving in and out, the stage is set for a journey into a world of the unknown. Dark energy is a mysterious new form of energy that emerges from the very "fabric" of empty space. Dark energy is all around us, but we can’t see it and have been blind to its existence until 1998 when scientists first observed its effect on the accelerated expansion of the universe. It now makes up most of the energy in the universe with its share increasing as the universe continues to expand. As we learn more and more about dark energy, we are still in the dark about its true nature.

Novel Dark Matter Detectors Using Molecular Biology and Nanotechnology
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics David Gerdes proposed a cube, "Novel Dark Matter Detectors Using Molecular Biology and Nanotechnology” with collaborators George E. Uhlenbeck Collegiate Professor of Physics Katherine Freese and Professor, Materials Science & Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Physics Rachel S. Goldman (and Graduate Advisor).

The physics behind the project is as follows. Dark matter consisting of Weakly-interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) makes up most of the matter in the universe. WIMPs have not yet been convincingly detected in the laboratory, despite several intriguing hints. Direct-detection experiments exploit the fact that a nucleus struck by a WIMP will recoil elastically, depositing its energy in the surrounding medium.

The MCubed team proposes to develop a radically different detector concept based on ordered arrays of single-stranded DNA. A nucleus that recoils through such an array would sever the strands it encounters. The fragments would be collected, amplified, and sequenced, allowing the reconstruction of the track with nanometer-level precision. Applications of such a precision tracker to problems beyond WIMP detection are also enticing.