Fermilab scientist earns prestigious award
The search for dark energy has put the spotlight on Aaron Chou.
The Fermilab physicist received the Department of Energy's Office of High-Energy Physics 2009 Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, an honor bestowed on only a handful of HEP scientists in the country.
The award debuted in 1978 and has become increasingly competitive, with about one in seven proposals accepted. The award identifies outstanding high-energy physicists early in their careers and financially supports their research programs.
More than 150 of the 200 past recipients have achieved tenured academic positions and many have gone on to renown in the field. Several worked on Fermilab experiments.
"I'm very happy, especially with the fact that the DOE review committee found my proposed research interesting and worthwhile," Chou said.
The award provides $70,000 annually for up to five years for Chou's proposal, Axion Search via Resonant Photon Regeneration, the second phase of a search for a milli-eV scale axion-like particle, a candidate for dark matter, started in the GammeV experiment.
"There are certain aspects of nature that no one has ever looked at in this detail before, so there could be something there," Chou said. "You don't need any more motivation that that - It is kind of like why you climb a mountain."
Chou and Fermilab physicist William Wester crafted the GammeV axion experiment, which used spare parts from other laboratory experiments in an effort to hold down costs. The proposed second-phase experiment also would use recycled equipment and would use advanced optical techniques to improve on GammeV sensitivity and improve the probability of detecting a photon converting to an axion by a factor of 10.
"Aaron's physics skills and his uncommonly deep understanding of theoretical concepts have allowed him to connect some hints seen in astrophysical measurements and to suggest a next level of sensitivity to try and experimentally probe," Wester said.
Chou's other Fermilab work includes the study of cosmic rays, dark energy and holographic noise.