for the Unknown For Liping Gan, a UNCW professor of physics, understanding the universe doesn’t consist of studying what is known, but rather what is unknown. Each summer since 2002, Gan has taken her students to Jefferson National Laboratory (JLab) in Newport News, VA, to engage with physicists and international students in joint research efforts. This year, they went to study the mysteries of dark matter. According to Gan, everything visible to the human eye comprises only a small portion of the universe. A much larger portion of what’s out there is “dark matter,” something science knows little about.
“Discovery of any of these particles or new forces would redefine our worldview and have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe,” explained Gan. “Right now we know nothing about the properties of dark matter except its gravitational force.” This summer’s research team included physics student Joshua Crafts ’17. At JLab, he was introduced to physicists from around the world and got acquainted with the demands of a professional research atmosphere. The experience helped him gain an understanding of industry-level physics and shaped ideas for what he hopes will be his future research. These international connections and interactions with the latest technology allow students like Crafts to be part of the global physics community. “Collaborators from all over the world speak highly of our students,” said Gan. “I am very proud of them. In physics, we always keep learning, because we don’t know everything. I enjoy taking students to JLab because I see them learning, and I feel rewarded by that.” – C.T. Joshua Crafts ’17 uses a high-intensity ultraviolet light to harden a special light-sensitive glue. Inset: Optically dense lead blocks are used to bend particles, which emit small amounts of light.