It’s not often that physicists take inspiration from Disney musicals when designing new experiments, but a team hell-bent on detecting dark matter says it did just that.
To find dark matter — that’s the elusive, invisible stuff that makes up most of the matter in the universe — scientists have built gigantic apparatuses, probed deep underground, and tiny floating beads. Now, apparently, they’re turning to kids’ movies as well.
Matthew Szydagis, a researcher at SUNY Albany, was compelled to investigate the properties of supercooled water after watching YouTube videos of people playing around with it, according to a press release by the American Physical Society, “especially when he saw it again during the Disney movie ‘Frozen.'”
The idea is to look for particle-sized bits of ice in small bubbles of supercooled water.
“All of my work is motivated by the search for dark matter, a form of matter we’re sure is out there because we can observe its indirect gravitational effects,” Szydagis said in the press release. “It makes up a significant fraction of the universe, but we have yet to uncover direct, conclusive and unambiguous evidence of it within the lab.”
Szydagis is looking for dark matter using supercooled water, which can be kept as a liquid beneath water’s usual freezing temperature as long as it’s in a vacuum-sealed container. He presented his work, first shared online last year, at an American Physical Society meeting on Sunday.
In particular, Szydagis’ team learned that neutrons cause supercooled water to freeze when they collide with it, leading the scientists to speculate that they may have a new way to detect dark matter, which is thought to share similarities with neutrons.
They haven’t spotted any dark matter yet, as their particular research was only intended to show that a supercooled water chamber could work as a subatomic particle detector at all. But future projects may use their design in a real search for the stuff.
READ MORE: ‘Snowball chamber’ helps researchers use supercooled water to search for dark matter [American Physical Society via Phys.org]
More on dark matter: An Oxford Scientist May Have Solved the Mystery of Dark Matter