Physics research on particles continues to draw federal funding

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Sven Vahsen, (808) 956-2985
Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Tom Browder, (808) 956 2936
Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Posted: Oct 3, 2012

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2
The research of UH Manoa Assistant Professor of Physics Sven E. Vahsen--for work at a particle accelerator in Japan and to investigate a new detector for elementary particles--has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and drawn additional funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 
The Department of Energy will provide $309,000 in funding over three years, which will enable Vahsen’s group to participate in the Belle and Belle II experiments at the KEK particle accelerator laboratory in Tsukuba, Japan. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is funding the third year of a project in which Vahsen’s group is developing a new type of elementary particle detector. This ongoing project has already brought almost $500,000 in funding to UH Manoa.
Vahsen came to the University in 2010 from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California.  He received his doctorate in physics from Princeton University in 2003.
At KEK in Japan, Vahsen’s group is participating in studies of “CP-violation," or subtle differences in the behavior of matter and anti-matter. At UH Manoa, his group is working on a detector that can record the trajectories of electrically charged particles in three dimensions, as shown in Figure 2.
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.
These awards were enabled by previous support from the National Science Foundation and Homeland Security, and generous startup funding provided jointly by the UH Vice President for Research, UH Manoa Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, and the Dean of the UH Manoa College of Natural Sciences.
Photo caption information:
Figure 1: Vahsen’s research group with a prototype detector. From left, postdoc Igal Jaegle, Vahsen, graduate student Ilsoo Seong, engineer Marc Rosen, graduate student Michael Hedges, graduate student Thomas Thorpe, postdoc Jared Yamoka, and graduate student Steven Ross. (Photo credit: Stephen Dye)
Figure 2: Trajectory of an elementary particle (a cosmic-ray muon), recorded with detector prototype. The track shown is about 7 mm long.