SLAC Today logo

Dorfan Today: The Kavli Institute

(Photo - Jonathan Dorfan)The Kavli Institute was in the news last week and I thought this would be a good time to look back on how far we have come in such a short time in our efforts to place SLAC at the forefront of particle astrophysics and cosmology.

The world of physics is changing. Just like the gravity that made Newton's apple fall was also relevant to the orbit of the moon, the detailed rules governing the interactions of fundamental particles and fields appear to be responsible for properties of the universe at large. Cosmologists and astrophysicists have much to learn from particle physicists and vice versa. To address this challenge, SLAC and the Physics and Applied Physics Departments proposed a joint institute that would work at the interface of particle physics and cosmology.

The stimulus of the gift from Pehong and Adele Chen in 2001, followed by gifts from Fred Kavli, The Kavli Foundation and Pierre Schwob, reinforced by very strong support from the university, turned the dream of an institute into reality. The Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology was inaugurated March 17, 2003. We can all remember the construction period of the Fred Kavli Building, during which it seemed to never stop raining! However three years to the day from the inauguration ceremony that birthed the Institute, Fred Kavli dedicated the beautiful new building. The Kavli Building is a tremendous resource for the whole laboratory with its large auditorium and new conference rooms. The Kavli Institute will also have space in the new Physics-Astrophysics building on the main campus that will be opened in late September this year.

In the interim, KIPAC has been growing as an institution thanks to the enthusiastic support of everyone at SLAC and on the main campus. KIPAC has provided a coherent forum and a stable home base for much of the disparate particle astrophysics research already going on in Stanford, of which GLAST is an excellent example. As most of you know, GLAST fabrication is complete and it will be launched on a NASA satellite in the Fall of 2007. But as we anticipated, KIPAC is spawning new projects and rich collaborations involving experimentalist, theorists and observers.

The largest experimental effort is on the proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), an 8m ground-based telescope planned to be installed in Chile. At the heart of this telescope, recording the images of very distant galaxies, is a 3.5 billion pixel digital camera. SLAC is the lead-lab for the R&D for the camera and, if the proposal becomes reality, we would lead its construction. LSST can study the distortion of shapes of distant galaxies and provide information on Dark Energy and Dark Matter.

KIPAC scientists are also studying the Cosmic Microwave Background, and are also collaborators in the SNAP project led by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. SNAP, like LSST, will confront Dark Energy and Dark Matter. Indeed, KIPAC researchers are using existing and future telescopes that provide information from across the full electromagnetic spectrum. Tremendous computing power is needed for both the data analysis and the giant simulations, each essential tools for the ingenious researchers who are trying to figure out how our wondrous universe works.

KIPAC has already demonstrated productive collaboration and creative interaction in management, engineering, methodology, theory and outreach between those who grew up with accelerators and those with telescopes. There is no better example than the recent demonstration by Marusa Bradac and colleagues using traditional astronomy methods to show that Dark Matter behaves as expected by the currently favored interpretation of weakly interacting supersymmetric particles.

KIPAC's future looks bright. The Institute has assembled a productive and ambitious group of young researchers and an outstanding administrative and technical support team who stand ready to wrestle to the ground the menu of scientific challenges that grows daily. Partly as a consequence of this richness of opportunity, difficult choices have to be made about research directions. However the wealth of projects demonstrates the incredible vitality of the field; as has characterized our rich past, I expect that our KIPAC scientists' choices will be those that lead to further major discoveries.

In three short years, SLAC has become a leader in the forefront of world particle astrophysics research and we all wish KIPAC well over its next three years as it consolidates its emerging preeminence and confronts the many challenges and opportunities that lie before it.

—Jonathan Dorfan, August 28, 2006