The gamma-ray sky as seen by the NASA-DOE Fermi gamma-ray telescope. The plane of the Milky Way, our own galaxy, stands out brightly in this image. Professor Safdi will combine images such as this one with particle and astrophysical dark matter models to search for evidence that dark matter emits small amounts of light in astrophysical systems. Credits: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Theoretical physicist Benjamin Safdi has been awarded a 2018 Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Award. The five-year grant provides funding to support his research on the particle nature of dark matter. “The goal of this project is to understand the composition of the microscopic dark matter particles,” Assistant Professor Safdi explains. “While dark matter is well understood on large astrophysical scales, the identity of the microscopic particles themselves remains a mystery. Dark matter is the most abundant form of matter in the Universe and it plays a key role in forming galaxies like our own Milky Way.”

Professor Safdi will be exploring possible electromagnetic signatures of dark matter. He explains that, “many of the leading particle dark matter models predict that dark matter should produce small amounts of light in astrophysical systems and precision laboratory experiments.” In part of this work, Professor Safdi will explore anomalous glows of light in gamma-rays and X-rays around nearby galaxies, including our own Milky Way. He will investigate whether these mysterious glows of light could arise from dark matter not being completely dark after all, and he will explore what these observations tell us about the properties of the dark matter particles themselves. 


Professor Safdi’s research group. From left to right, Christopher Dessert (graduate student), Malte Buschmann (post-doc), Josh Foster (graduate student), Benjamin Safdi (Professor), Raymond Co (post-doc). Not shown: Zhiquan Sun (undergrad).

Another aspect of Professor Safdi’s work will focus on developing precision laboratory tests for particle dark matter models. Some dark matter models where the dark matter interacts electromagnetically can produce subtle changes to the behavior of electric and magnetic fields when these fields are embedded in a background of astrophysical dark matter. Professor Safdi will explore how to combine the predictions of these dark matter models together with knowledge of how dark matter behaves in our local Universe and precision technology to develop new methods to search for particle dark matter in the laboratory.

If evidence of particle dark matter is found, either in the laboratory or in astrophysical systems, this would provide an understanding of the most abundant substance in the Universe. Additionally, understanding the nature of dark matter would “give greater context to how ordinary matter is embedded within the fundamental laws of nature,” Safdi explains.

Professor Safdi is one of two assistant professors at the University of Michigan awarded DOE Early Career Awards this year. The other is Kerri Pratt, Seyhan N. Ege Assistant Professor of Chemistry.

The Early Career Research Program, now in its ninth year, supports the development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and stimulates research careers in the disciplines supported by the DOE Office of Science. Professors Safdi and Pratt are among 84 awardees chosen from academic institutions or national laboratories across the nation.

More Information:

Benjamin Safdi
DOE Early Career Awards