There are many outstanding questions about the universe: What is the nature of dark matter? Why is the universe expanding? How do neutrinos acquire their mass?
Because experiments to answer these kinds of questions can require significant planning and construction, such as building new accelerator facilities—which can take years or decades, contributions from thousands of scientists, and billions of dollars—physicists plan for these projects many years ahead.
This week a group of eminent physicists released the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report, outlining their recommendations to U.S. funding agencies for research priorities and creating a roadmap for the field of particle physics in the United States for the next decade. Among their priorities are several projects which University of Chicago scientists are leading or contributing, including a project to map the early universe known as CMB-S4 and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.
“These are huge questions, which we divide into three major areas: deciphering the quantum realm, illuminating the invisible universe and exploring new paradigms in physics,” said University of Chicago Prof. Abby Vieregg, a member of the P5 committee and the David N. Schramm director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. “One interesting thing is that we are increasingly looking towards blending cosmology and particle physics in one unified vision to learn about how the universe works at the biggest and smallest scales.”
‘The next generation’
According to the committee, the P5 report amounts to a strategic plan for the U.S. community with a 10-year budgetary timeline and a 20-year context.
The P5 report listed CMB-S4, a network of ground-based telescopes designed to observe the cosmic microwave background, as its highest priority project. CMB-S4, which is co-led by the University of Chicago and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, aims to build telescopes and infrastructure in both Antarctica and Chile to search for what are known as “primordial” gravitational waves—the vibrations from the Big Bang itself—as well as mapping the microwave light from the cosmos in incredible detail and investigate the mystery known as dark matter.