Monday, June 8, 2015
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Monday yoga registration due June 15

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Managing Conflict (half-day) on June 10

Commercializing Innovation: office hours at IARC - June 11

International folk dancing Thursday evenings through June 11

NALWO lecture: Beauty of Barns - June 16

art/LArSoft course at Fermilab, free registration - Aug. 3-7

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Sam McDermott wins URA Thesis Award for studies on novel dark matter searches

Sam McDermott

Just as there is more than one way to crack a nut, there is more than one way to search for dark matter. Some involve a telescope pointed toward the galaxies, others require detectors buried in the earth, and still others use accelerators to try to create dark matter particles.

Scientist Sam McDermott has proposed new and interesting ways to test the more novel dark matter models. This work is the focus of his Ph.D. thesis, and the Universities Research Association has recognized it with this year's URA Thesis Award, which is presented annually for outstanding work conducted at or in collaboration with Fermilab.

"The committee was impressed by the large number of studies related to dark matter in the thesis, in addition to other studies," said URA Thesis Award Committee Chair Leonard Spiegel of Fermilab. "Dark matter is an important focus of the Fermilab research program, spanning all three frontiers, and his thesis brings together many ideas for probing its nature."

Dark matter is five times more abundant than the normal matter that we're familiar with. Scientists don't know what it is, but its effects are evident in the velocity of galaxies and the way light bends around them.

According to the most widely accepted model, two interacting dark matter particles will annihilate. Scientists therefore typically try to smoke out dark matter using purpose-built telescopes that search for byproducts from the collision of two dark matter particles.

But some newer models describe dark matter differently. For example, perhaps it doesn't annihilate with itself. In that case, this asymmetric dark matter would accumulate rather than annihilate.

In one proposed approach to searching for the phenomenon, McDermott details how scientists might learn from neutron stars, among the densest regions of the universe. After building up over time, asymmetric dark matter would form a black hole inside the star, destroying it. The fact that old neutron stars (easily identified as pulsars) exist places relatively strong bounds on the asymmetric dark matter model, helpfully narrowing the ranges of properties dark matter would exhibit.

In addition to setting forth a variety of novel dark matter approaches such as this one, McDermott devoted part of his thesis to Higgs physics.

McDermott completed his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan under Kathryn Zurek. During his last year he worked at Fermilab under scientist Dan Hooper on a predoctoral fellowship. He is currently a postdoc at Stony Brook University.

"I'm very happy and honored to be given the award, and I'm excited to come back to Fermilab where I'll collaborate further with colleagues," said McDermott, who will accept his award during the Users Meeting, which takes place June 10-11.

"Universities Research Association is honored to confer this award on Sam McDermott," said URA Executive Director Marta Cehelsky. "The URA Thesis Award reflects his achievement and recognizes the vital role that Fermilab plays in the education and training of the next generation of researchers."

Leah Hesla

In the News

Telescopes set limits on space-time quantum 'foam'

From Astronomy Magazine, May 29, 2015

A team of scientists has used X-ray and gamma-ray observations of some of the most distant objects in the universe to better understand the nature of space and time. Their results set limits on the quantum nature, or "foaminess," of space-time at extremely tiny scales.

This study combines data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope along with ground-based gamma-ray observations from the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array (VERITAS).

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Tip of the Week: Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity in the headlines

Advanced persistent threats are different from typical cyberattacks. They attempt to obtain personal information to later gain beachheads in other unrelated computing systems. Image: Dell SecureWorks

Those of us who work in cybersecurity would prefer to avoid publicity. In most cases when you hear or read about security it is because something unfortunate has happened. And in fact there have been headlines in the past few days about a security incident affecting the federal Office of Personnel Management.

The types of attacks that frequently make headlines are often the advanced persistent threats. This type of attack is rather different from the traditional hacker activity. The adversary emphasizes stealth, maintaining a low profile for an extended period of time to avoid detection and to maximize the amount of data he can collect. There are no flashy Web page defacements or noisy attacks on other systems, making it difficult to detect the presence of unauthorized users. And the aims of the attack are to gather information, not just credit card numbers that could be used for identity theft or financial gain, but also the kind of personal information that can be used in future social engineering attempts to gain beachheads in other unrelated computing systems.

What does this mean to us? First, it is a reminder that we must be constantly vigilant in looking for any types of unusual behavior on our computing systems and be aggressive in scanning for and remediating any vulnerabilities in our systems that could allow attackers to penetrate. Please be cooperative if you are notified of such vulnerabilities in any of your systems; even one unpatched system can serve as a point of entry for an attacker.

Next, we will need to speed up our plans to require two-factor authentication (use of a password together with a hardware token) for access to any of our systems with sensitive information. We have already been moving in this direction using the RSA tokens I have written about previously, but we will likely be asked to make this access method universal for privileged users. And of course we should continue to avoid having any sensitive information on laptops or desktops or in cloud data storage.

Finally, be very suspicious of phone calls and emails purporting to come from government employees. There are very few legitimate reasons for most employees to be so contacted. When an unknown adversary has access to detailed information about government personnel, they will try to create very plausible stories in attempts to gain further entry to computing systems at sites like Fermilab.

Irwin Gaines

Photo of the Day

Primary colors

Red, green and blue survive a rainy gray day at Sauk Circle. Photo: Sudeshna Ganguly, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In the News

Scientists see ripples of a particle-separating wave in primordial plasma

From Brookhaven National Laboratory Newsroom, June 8, 2015

Scientists in the STAR collaboration at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a particle accelerator exploring nuclear physics and the building blocks of matter at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, have new evidence for what's called a "chiral magnetic wave" rippling through the soup of quark-gluon plasma created in RHIC's energetic particle smashups.

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