Physics professor wins National Science Foundation award

To investigate a new detector for elementary particles

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Tom Browder, (808) 956-2936
Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Sven Vahsen, (808) 956-2985
Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy
Posted: Sep 13, 2010

Assistant Professor Sven Vahsen (photo credit: Therese S. Borge)
Assistant Professor Sven Vahsen (photo credit: Therese S. Borge)

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa assistant professor of physics Sven E. Vahsen has received a highly competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) Academic Research Initiative award.

Vahsen was recently hired from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and received his doctorate in physics from Princeton University in 2003.

The initial $219,164 funding supports the first year of a three-year project. Vahsen’s award is for the development of a new type of particle detector for future particle physics experiments, dark matter searches, and homeland security.

Vahsen and his collaborators are working on a detector that can record the trajectories of electrically charged particles in three dimensions, with unprecedented precision. While advances in this area are needed for future experiments in particle physics, the same underlying technology may also enable the directional detection of neutral particles – such as dark matter particles left over from the Big Bang, and neutrons from nuclear material. This is possible because these neutral particles occasionally knock out atomic nuclei from atoms in the detector. These charged nuclei then leave tiny tracks, millimeters long, just long enough to be seen with a highly precise detector.

This award was enabled by generous startup funding provided jointly by the UH Vice President for Research, UH Mānoa Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Dean of the UH Mānoa College of Natural Sciences.