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Headed for dark matter

  • Fermilab-bound
    Fermilab-bound  Reinard Primulando (left) goes over some data with his advisor, Christopher Carone, professor of physics at William & Mary. Primulando, a Ph.D. student in the William & Mary Department of Physics, will head to Batavia, Illinois, this fall to begin a Fermilab Fellowship in Theoretical Physics.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Ph.D. student in physics wins Fermilab fellowship

Reinard Primulando, a Ph.D. student in the William & Mary Department of Physics, is a recipient of a Fermilab Fellowship in Theoretical Physics. Primulando, who studies dark matter and dark energy, was awarded a year-long fellowship at Fermilab, one of the leading laboratories for high-energy particle physics in the world.

Primulando’s application consisted of a letter of nomination, a list of his publications, and a brief abstract of his research done thus far at William and Mary. In his abstract, Primulando described his research towards understanding the unknown components of our universe.

“Now, we actually know about 5 percent of the universe’s content. And then the other 95 percent are still a mystery to us. We don’t know what it actually is,” he explained.

That other 95 percent, according to Christopher Carone, professor of physics at the College and Primulando’s Ph.D. advisor, is divided into two things: dark matter and dark energy. Primulando and Carone have been working on models to explain the origin and properties of dark matter in the galaxy.

Among the data that Carone and Primulando use in formulating their theories are the spectra of sub-atomic particles in cosmic rays originating from deep space, as measured in satellite-based experiments.

“These satellites have detectors that directly count electrons and positrons and anti-protons. They are actual particle-physics experiments in outer space,” Carone explained. “The mystery is that astrophysical models indicate that these experiments are seeing too many positrons. In Reinard’s work, we’re trying to model this excess.”

Primulando became interested in this part of theoretical physics, the mystery of dark matter, before arriving at William and Mary.

“The big picture of everything is basically mystery,” he said, “I like the mystery.”

To try to solve this mystery, Primulando uses data collected by satellites, particle colliders and other Earth-based detectors to create models that could help to formulate a standard particle theory for dark matter. It’s this research that led Primulando to be selected as one of five recipients of the Fermilab fellowship this year. He will spend the next 12 months on site at the lab, where he will continue his research with more resources at his disposal.

“The fellowship gives me the opportunity to work with more people, getting more ideas from more people,” he explained.

Having spent time in a similar experience, Carone provided some insight into the possible components of the fellowship.

“First of all, in the course of a week, there will be at least three theoretical physics seminars, in different sub-fields, where people present their ideas” Carone said, “This will stimulate subsequent discussion that will likely lead to productive research collaborations.”

During his year-long fellowship, Primulando will not only be able to publish his findings, but also gain valuable experience as a theoretical physicist for his future career.

“I think this is a great opportunity in terms of his career,” Carone said.

Fermilab, more formally known as the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, is located in Batavia, Illinois. It is the only U.S. laboratory devoted to high-energy physics. Primulando will start the fellowship in Fall 2011.

“It’ll create an opportunity to boost my career, to work on the thing I really like to do, and meet more people, and discuss the subject I really love,” he said.  ideation