Physicists Under Glass

Winter 2010

On a continent that contains more than its fair share of the white stuff—snow and ice—Antarctica is the last place on Earth you’d expect to find researchers studying the darkest matter in the universe.

But that’s exactly where Matt Dobbs, Canada Research Chair in Astro-particle Physics, and his team hole themselves up, often for months at a time, attracted by Antarctica’s thin atmosphere, arid skies—and the South Pole Telescope.

The telescope is a collaboration between McGill and eight US universities that is designed to observe microwave radiation reaching Earth from the edge of the Universe.

“We’re primarily interested in how the universe as a whole evolved and what the universe is made up of, so we use the galaxy clusters as tracers for the expansion history of the universe,” says Dobbs.

This, in turn, may help solve some of the mysteries surrounding dark energy, which cosmologists discovered about a decade ago. It makes up almost three-quarters of our universe, but we still know very little about it. The evolution of the clusters depends on both gravity and the dark energy pulling them apart.

Dobbs, who earned a much-coveted 2010 Sloan Research Fellowship worth $50,000, concludes that “success is not just about scientific excellence, but also about getting things done in extreme environments. I’ll be relying on the abilities of our exceptional team of students, postdocs, and collaborators as much as my own.”

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