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Dorfan Today: SLAC Summer Institute

The SLAC Summer Institute (SSI), which begins next week, is one of SLAC's great traditions and one of the laboratory's many innovative and effective educational activities. Each summer, students from all over the U.S. and beyond spend two weeks listening to lectures, taking part in discussion groups, mingling with preeminent researchers, going on tours and participating in the social events—not forgetting the famous soccer matches. Taking part in SSI is an unforgettable experience—it certainly was for me when I was a student and postdoc. Participants leave enriched with new knowledge, having savored the unique spirit and atmosphere at SLAC, while setting up friendships that will likely span their professional lives.

Looking back on the topics covered by SSI over the years provides a mini history of the development and evolution of particle physics. Recently, and especially since the setting up of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), the scope has broadened to include gravity, cosmology and particle astrophysics. It is not only the SSI topics that provide a historical snapshot; the list of speakers reads like a Who's Who of particle physics—Richard Feynman, Alan Guth, BJ Bjorken, Haim Harari, Carlo Rubbia, Bjorn Wiik—to name but a few.

My thanks to the present and the past SSI committees with a special thank you to David Leith, who set up SSI in 1972 and was the head of the organization committee for 25 years thereafter. The SSI organizational staff does a heroic job running this unique event. It demands great attention to detail in the preparation stages and total commitment during the two weeks of SSI.

This year's topic is particularly timely and interesting: "Dark Matter—From the Cosmos to the Laboratory." One of the biggest questions in science today has to be What is the dark matter that makes up 25% of the universe's mass?, and the search for the answer is heating up with a real anticipation that we are on the threshold of discovery. SLAC and our collaborators on the main campus are very involved in this adventure. The SLAC ATLAS group will be helping to track down supersymmetry, one of the leading contenders for explaining the existence of dark matter, when Large Hadron Collider turns on next year. The Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) will be launched at the beginning of 2008 and has exciting possibilities for dark matter detection. Blas Cabrera, a senior member of KIPAC, co-leads the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS). KIPAC's Steve Allen has been using dark matter theory to calculate the properties of the universe at large, and the landmark observations of dark matter in isolation made by KIPAC's Maruša Bradač and colleagues were named the third most important science story of 2006 by Science magazine.

SSI is bringing some of the most eminent specialists on dark matter to SLAC over the next two weeks. It is great opportunity to take stock of the progress in understanding dark matter and the range of experiments that are currently or will imminently be searching for dark matter. This is a tremendously stimulating time in science and I envy the young people who will have the opportunity to spend two weeks learning from some of the best theorists and experimentalists in the field.

Another fascinating aspect of SSI 2007 is the fusion of two fields, particle physics and astrophysics, with the content of the first morning setting the tone for the next two weeks. The first talk is given by Scott Dodelson on "Cosmology for Particle Physicists" and is immediately followed by Jonathan Feng speaking to "Supersymmetry for Astrophysicists."

SSI, once again, promises to be an historic event.

—Jonathan Dorfan, SLAC Today, July 23, 2007