3D-Printed Vacuum System for Dark Matter Axion Detection

Scientists from the University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy have developed a 3D-printed vacuum system that will be used in a novel experiment to lower gas density before adding ultra-cold lithium atoms to detect dark walls. The findings have been reported in Physical Review D.

3D-Printed Vacuum System for Dark Matter Axion Detection

Image Credit: University of Nottingham

Using a specially built 3D-printed vacuum apparatus, scientists have found a method to ‘trap’ dark matter to identify domain barriers. This will be a big step forward in unraveling some of the universe’s mysteries.

Ordinary matter that the world is made from is only a tiny fraction of the contents of the universe, around 5 %; the rest is either dark matter or dark energy–we can see their effects on how the universe behaves, but we don’t know what they are. One way people try to measure dark matter is to introduce a particle called a scalar field.

Clare Burrage, Study Lead Author and Professor, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham

The researchers designed the 3D vessels using the hypothesis that light scalar fields with double well potentials and direct matter couplings experience density-driven phase transitions, resulting in the creation of domain walls.

Clare Burrage added, “As density is lowered, defects form–this is similar to when water freezes into ice, water molecules are random, and when they freeze, you get a crystal structure with molecules lined up at random, with some lined up one way and some another and this creates fault lines. Something similar happens in scalar fields as the density gets lower. You can’t see these fault lines by eye, but if particles pass across them, it might change their trajectory. These defects are dark walls and can prove the theory of scalar fields–either that these fields exist or don’t.”

To identify these faults or dark walls, the team has developed a specifically built vacuum, which will be used in a new experiment that simulates traveling from a dense environment to a less dense one.

Using the new setup, scientists will cool lithium atoms with laser photons to -273, which is near absolute zero. At this temperature, they adopt quantum properties, making analysis more precise and predictable.

The 3D printed vessels we are using as the vacuum chamber have been constructed using theoretical calculations of Dark Walls; this has created what we believed to be the ideal shape, structure, and texture to trap the dark matter. To successfully demonstrate that dark walls have been trapped, we will let a cold atom cloud pass through those walls. The cloud is then deflected. To cool those atoms, we fire laser photons at the atoms, which reduces the energy in the atom - this is like slowing down an elephant using snowballs!

Dr. Lucia Hackermueller, Associate Professor, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham

The system took three years to construct, and the team expects to see results within a year.

Dr. Hackermueller concluded, “Whether we prove dark walls exist or not, it will be an important step forwards in our understanding of dark energy and dark matter and an excellent example of how a well-controlled lab experiment can be designed to directly measure effects that are relevant for the Universe and otherwise cannot be observed.”

Journal Reference:

Clements, K., et al. (2024) Detecting dark domain walls through their impact on particle trajectories in tailored ultrahigh vacuum environments. Physical Review D. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.109.123023

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