• 28.08.2019
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CHIPP Prize 2019 goes to PSI researcher Dr. Michał Rawlik

The neutron and a big question

The particle physicist Michał Rawlik (29), who studied physics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and earned his doctorate at ETH Zurich, is awarded the CHIPP Prize 2019. Photo: B. Vogel
Image: CHIPP, Switzerland
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The particle physicist Michał Rawlik (29), who studied physics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and earned his doctorate at ETH Zurich, is awarded the CHIPP Prize 2019. Photo: B. Vogel
The particle physicist Michał Rawlik (29), who studied physics at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and earned his doctorate at ETH Zurich, is awarded the CHIPP Prize 2019. Photo: B. Vogel (Image: CHIPP, Switzerland)

Michał Rawlik, scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) is awarded the CHIPP Prize 2019. The 29-year-old researcher receives the award for his doctoral thesis on the electric dipole moment of the neutron. The experiment he co-developed could one day help answer the question of why there is much more matter in the universe than antimatter.

This week it's time again: Several hundred physicists meet for the annual conference of the Swiss Physical Society (SPG), which is held in this year together with the Austrian sister organisation ÖPG. Part of the five-day event at the University of Zurich will be the particle physicists working in Switzerland, organized by the Swiss Institute of Particle Physics (CHIPP). In Zurich, they exchange their scientific findings with lectures and posters and network with the international community.

Search for the electric dipole moment

A highlight of the week was the awarding of the CHIPP Prize 2019, which is presented each year to a young researcher for outstanding scientific achievements. This year, the prize goes to Michał Rawlik from ETH Zurich. As part of his doctoral thesis, which was completed in 2018, Rawlik worked on an experiment at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Villigen (AG); he helped to set up the experiment and to evaluate the data. Over the next few years, the aim of the experiment is to determine whether the externally electrically neutral neutron has an non-uniform charge distribution (electrical dipole moment) within its interior. Rawlik was awarded the prize "for his outstanding contribution to the improvement of experimental techniques aimed at detecting the Electric Dipole Moment of the neutron, and exploiting the consequences of such measurements in setting bounds on possible Axion fields," writes the CHIPP Prize jury.

Michał Rawlik's research on the electric dipole moment is presented in an article previously published on this platform. As the CHIPP Prize jury's appreciation shows, Rawlik also made the arc from the dipole moment of neutrons to the axions in his doctoral thesis. Axions are hypothetical elementary particles that could make up dark matter. Dark matter is a form of matter that does not interact with photons (light particles), or if it does, the coupling of photons to dark matter particles is extremely weak (therefore "dark"), but which must fill the vastness of the universe if the laws of gravitational force known today are to be valid.

Today, research is being conducted around the globe to find out what dark matter is and what it consists of. One theory postulates that dark matter consists of axions. But how can the existence of such particles be proven? In his doctoral thesis, Michał Rawlik considered ways of proving the axions with the help of the experiment he together with a team set up to investigate the electric dipole moment at PSI.

While other researchers are trying to detect axions through a possible coupling to photons, Rawlik has taken a different path: he investigated how the dark matter particles could possibly be detected through their coupling to gluons or nucleons (protons, neutrons). The researcher, who worked in the team of Prof. Klaus Kirch (ETHZ/PSI), has evaluated data sets that were recorded at PSI in 2015/16 during the search for the electrical dipole moment.

Increasingly accurate measurements

So far, the evaluations have not revealed any indications of Axions. Michał Rawlik is convinced, however, that the final word has not yet been spoken, because the search can be further refined through improved experiments: "By combining the data from the past with the data from future experiments on the electric dipole moment, we make the investigation sensitive to even smaller axion masses.

Author: Benedikt Vogel

The presentation of this work is scheduled for Thursday 29 August 2019 at the SPS/OPG annual meeting at the University of Zurich, here is his talk.

A video with award winner Michał Rawlik can be found here below.

CHIPP Prize 2019 Rawlik

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