Department of Energy grant awarded to Professor Shah's research on dark matter

Department of Energy grant awarded to Professor Shah's research on dark matter

Department of Energy grant awarded to Professor Shah's research on dark matter

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As far as we know, the visible universe is composed of elementary particles which are much smaller than atomic nuclei. The known particle content, and forces that govern their observed interactions, are encoded in the Standard Model of particle physics. However, without the recently discovered Higgs boson, the mathematical structure of the Standard Model forbids elementary particle masses. The discovery of the Higgs boson validated the Higgs mechanism for the generation of elementary particle masses and has allowed physicists to understand why some particles are massless while others have mass.

These two videos offer analogies that explain the Higgs boson and the Higgs field: CERN & Symmetry Magazine.

Nausheen Shah, a Wayne State University physics and astronomy professor, has been awarded a Department of Energy grant to carry out theoretical research on particle physics beyond what is understood in the Standard Model. In her research, she will construct theoretical models with inherent symmetries present at high energies, leading to the presence of additional particles and forces, which may dictate certain features we observe in the Standard Model. Her research will shed light on the answers to three questions where the Standard Model falls short.

Shah will investigate the question of the divisions among the elementary particles, which are also called generations. According to the Standard Model, there are three generations of particles, identical except for their wildly different masses. Shah will use her research to reveal why there are three generations of matter with such large mass hierarchies. 

Shah’s study will also focus on dark matter. We know that dark matter composes approximately 25% of the total energy budget of the universe, compared to only 5% of known matter. Dark matter is a big mystery to physicists. Many agree that we are more certain of what dark matter is not than what it is. Shah hopes to use her research to provide some clarity on what dark matter is or could be.

Despite what has been learned since the discovery of the Higgs boson, many questions remain unanswered. In particular, an understanding of the origin of the Higgs field is lacking. As a third focus of her research, Shah will investigate the possible origins of the Higgs mechanism.

Shah’s research stands to possibly uncover new physics that will open the field of particle physics and expand what is currently known in the field.