Alumna talks dark matter

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February 20, 2009

2:25 PM

College of William and Mary alumna Evalyn Gates ’80 gave a lecture entitled “Einstein’s Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe” February 19 in Small Hall.

The talk was based on her upcoming book of the same name. Gate’s discussed what scientists know about the composition of the universe, what they don’t know yet, and how the study of dark matter and energy could reshape their understanding of the universe.

“We are on the brink of a new revolution in science. This is an incredibly exciting time in cosmology, the study of the universe,” Gates said. “We are at the point where we were 100 years ago just before quantum mechanics were discovered, or just before Einstein developed general relativity.”

She outlined the major recent observations that have overturned science’s picture of the universe: most of the matter in the universe is “dark,” dark matter is very different from normal matter and most of the universe is not in the form of matter at all.

“Dark energy, which represents 72 percent of the universe, is not matter. … It’s something totally different, and this is where the next revolution of science is going to come from,” she said. “Gravity no longer controls the fate of the universe.”

She also addressed how dark matter and energy are being studied.

“Gravitational lensing — what I’m calling Einstein’s telescope — is now the most powerful tool we have in the search for dark energy in the universe” she said.

Gravitational lensing is the effect produced when light bends around a massive object. It enables scientists to find distant planets, weigh and magnify distant galaxies, test alternative theories of gravity, map out where dark matter is, and search for the imprint of dark matter.

She acknowledged that in order to understand these new building blocks of the universe, “we’re probably going to need something that we probably haven’t even though of yet.”

Gates also emphasized the importance of the College in introducing her to her current field of expertise.

“Were it not for this college, I wouldn’t have gotten into my current work,” she said. “This is where I fell in love with physics.”

Gates currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and is a senior research associate at the University of Chicago.

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