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onCampus--Ohio State's faculty/staff news

Vol. 38, No. 18

By: Kim Burdett

OSU researchers play hide and seek with the universe

Hand parting Venetian blinds to peer at universe
While the football Buckeyes have been conquering the gridiron for more than a century, Ohio State researchers have only recently set their eyes on a new conquest: The universe.

Thanks to the new Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics, faculty and students are able to ask and answer questions about what the universe is made of and how it has evolved.

“The goal of CCAPP is to put together astronomers and high-energy physicists in a fertile environment where they can feed off each other’s ideas and expertise,” said Terry Walker, director of CCAPP and a professor of physics and astronomy.

The program is a joint venture between the departments of Astronomy and Physics that uses the expertise of faculty, postdoctoral researchers, technical staff and graduate students to uncover the secrets surrounding the universe.

“CCAPP tries to take existing OSU resources and create an environment where the whole can be greater than just the sum of the parts,” Walker said.

Initiatives of CCAPP include learning more about dark energy, dark matter, the origin of cosmic structure and the highest energy particles in the universe.

So what exactly is dark energy? There are no compelling theoretical explanations about the energy that makes up 70 percent of the universe, but Ohio State is working to change that.

“Even though (dark energy) is the most dominant component in our accounting, it is totally not understood or predicted by any theory,” Walker explained. “In order to figure out where it comes from we must figure out what it is.”

With the development of CCAPP, OSU has been accepted as an institutional member in the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration, a multifaceted effort designed to study dark energy and its mysterious properties.

Not only does Ohio State have the expert faculty to uncover these cosmic questions, it also has state-of-the-art resources available. The university owns a one-sixth share of the Large Binocular Telescope, one of the world’s highest-resolution and most technologically advanced optical telescopes, located in Mount Graham, Ariz.

The LBT is even more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s orbiting telescope. It has a light-collecting capacity 25 times greater than Hubble’s as well as an image resolution that is 10 times sharper.

The telescope has been featured on a Discovery Channel program.

“The LBT has the potential to be one of the world’s best instruments for measuring the universe,” Walker said.

Access to such facilities is invaluable, especially given the fact that humans can only see 5 percent of the universe. The remaining 95 percent constitutes the dark matter and dark energy that researchers are fiercely trying to understand.

While nearly every Top 10 research university has a center devoted to cosmology, Ohio State’s CCAPP is unique because of the resources available and the freedom that young researchers have to answer cosmological questions in a mini-workshop format.

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