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New Canada Excellence Research Chair studies dark matter


Kingston, ON – Renowned French astrophysicist Gilles Gerbier has been named Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Particle Astrophysics at Queen’s University. He has been named for his groundbreaking investigation into dark matter. He was previously the director of research at the Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay, France.

The Queen’s team conducts fundamental research into dark matter, an invisible substance scientists believe makes up the majority of matter in the universe. While the campus is home base for this group, Dr. Gerbier and his colleagues will also spend many hours researching deep below the surface of the Earth at the SNOLAB in Sudbury, where researchers attempt to measure some of the smallest known particles that hint at the origins of the universe and all that exists within it.

Dr. Gerbier will receive $10 million over seven years in federal funding in addition to $1,040,000 in infrastructure funding from the CFI. The combined funding will allow him to design and equip a world-class lab and recruit a top research team that may one day crack the mystery of dark matter.

When asked by Queen’s University’s Mark Kerr as to why he decided to come to Queen’s and SNOLAB, Dr. Gerbier said, “There aren’t many underground labs in the world and SNOLAB is arguably the best one because it’s very deep and very clean with available space. Another reason is that I knew most of the team members at SNOLAB and at Queen’s. They’re very good physicists, and I really wanted to work with them.

“So far, we haven’t observed dark matter’s existence so we must do more sensitive experiments in SNOLAB with European and North American teams,” he added. “One of my goals, which I have already started pursuing the past few years, is to bring together these big groups and have larger experiments that are more sensitive. This is something that could be ideally done in SNOLAB because the North American groups have already planned and been funded to perform experiments there.

“The second project is related to a new kind of technology to identify these particles using spherical gaseous detectors,” he said. “I’ve started this innovative research with a colleague in France. We already have hints that it will bring new insights to dark matter but of course we have to build the experiments and tune them to make them better. SNOLAB is a great site to base this experiment.”

A graduate of the École Centrale Paris, Dr. Gerbier obtained his PhD from the Université Paris XI for his work at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) on neutrino interactions in bubble chambers. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, he became a founding member and team leader of the Beijing-Paris-Rome-Saclay Collaboration, producing seminal work on the characterization of scintillators for dark matter searches. In 2005, he became team leader for the European EDELWEISS experiment—dedicated to the direct detection of dark matter particles with bolometric detectors—based at France’s Modane Underground Laboratory (LSM).