Frank Wilzcek. Foto: Stockholms universitet.
Frank Wilzcek. Photo: Stockholm University.

”Ideally, of course, we’d like to facilitate the experimental detection of axions. That may or may not happen, but we’ll do interesting work, train young people in exciting science, and - I’m confident - develop interesting spin-offs”, says Frank Wilczek, professor at the Department of Physics of Stockholm University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Wilczek also holds appointments at Arizona State University (ASU) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). He is a Nobel laureate for Physics (2004).

The research will mainly be carried out in Stockholm at the Oskar Klein Center at Stockholm University and the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (Nordita).

”Axions are a target of research around the world, but most of this research involves small groups, which by their nature can’t do justice to all aspects of the field, and synergies among them. The ERC grant will allow us, I think, to form a powerful, focused effort in Stockholm that will fill that role. We can also bring in visitors to exchange ideas. Since the research touches on big, appealing questions, I also hope to reach out to a wider scientific and public audience.”

Axions are very light and feebly interacting by the standards of conventional particle physics, making them extremely hard to study.

”Once we determine the axion's mass, its other main properties are predictable. This enables us to design experiments to search for them. There is a lot of activity in this direction.  Important searches are underway, and others are on the drawing board. The relevant experiments are unusual and challenging, so there is reason to hope that creative thinking and clever innovations can improve them.”    

A candidate for dark matter

Axions have become a very attractive candidate to answer the question of what astronomical “dark matter” is made of.   Many people around the world are exploring ideas and experimental strategies to detect the axion gas in which we’re immersed.

”Although axions have not yet been detected, the equations they obey have remarkable properties. It turns out that those equations, with different values of the parameters, describe behaviour that occurs in interesting laboratory materials, e.g. the topological insulators.” 

Axions arise in attempts to understand why the laws of physics look nearly the same when run backwards in time, a fact called “time reversal symmetry”.

Read more: Three ERC Advanced Grants to Stockholm University