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Physics Professor receives Homeland Security grant

Investigating a new detector for elementary particles

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Sven E. Vahsen, (808) 956-2985
Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Thomas Browder, (808) 956 2936
Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Posted: Sep 23, 2011

Vahsen’s research group with the prototype detector.
Vahsen’s research group with the prototype detector.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Assistant Professor of Physics Sven E. Vahsen has received $174,820 in funding from the Department of Homeland Security. Vahsen’s award is for continued development of a new type of particle detector for Homeland Security, future particle physics experiments, and dark matter searches. The ongoing project is expected to bring in excess of $500,000 to UH Mānoa.

Vahsen was hired from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in 2010, and received his doctorate in physics from Princeton University in 2003.

Vahsen and his collaborators are working on a detector that can record the trajectories of electrically charged particles in three dimensions, with unprecedented precision. While advances in this area are needed for future experiments in particle physics, the same underlying technology may also enable the directional detection of neutral particles – such as dark matter particles left over from the Big Bang, and neutrons from nuclear material. This is possible because these neutral particles occasionally knock out atomic nuclei from atoms in the detector. These charged nuclei then leave tiny tracks, millimeters long, just long enough to be seen with a highly precise detector.

This award was enabled by support from the National Science Foundation, and generous startup funding provided jointly by the UH Vice President for Research, UH Mānoa Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Dean of the UH Mānoa College of Natural Sciences.

Photo caption: Vahsen’s research group with the prototype detector. From left to right: postdoc Igal Jaegle, Vahsen, graduate student Ilsoo Seong, engineer Marc Rosen, future graduate student Michael Hedges, graduate student Thomas Thorpe,  postdoc Jared Yamoka, and graduate student Steven Ross. (Photo credit: Stephen Dye)