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Shutt joins Case as Pytte Associate Professor of Physics

Tom Shutt has been appointed the first holder of the Agnar Pytte chair in physics at Case Western Reserve University. The Pytte chair is named in honor of Case President Emeritus Agnar Pytte, who served as chair of the department of physics at Dartmouth College prior to his presidency at Case. The Pytte chair was endowed by The Sherman Fairchild Foundation upon Pytte´s retirement in 1999. The endowment supports an eminent scholar in the areas of condensed matter physics, particle theory, particle astrophysics or cosmology.

Shutt joins the department as an associate professor, having previously been on the faculty of Princeton University. He works in the area of particle astrophysics, bringing strength to Case´s Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics (CERCA).

Shutt will compete with his departmental colleague Daniel Akerib in the race to discover experimental evidence for the existence of weakly interactive massive particles (WIMPs). It is thought that the visible matter in the universe is insufficient to produce the gravitational effects we see. The search for WIMPs is part of the scientific endeavor to locate the missing "“dark matter” in the universe.

“Only one-tenth of the matter in galaxies is in the stars, dust and planets,” said Shutt “Galaxies seem to be rotating too fast to hold together if you just consider this mass. Ten times more matter is needed to provide the gravitational ‘glue’ that holds galaxies together.”

Shutt notes that something similar is seen on larger scales throughout the universe: “Normal matter in stars and such seems to constitute only one-tenth of the total mass that we know is there from its gravity.”

Shutt is a member of the XENON Project, a consortium of scientists at Case, Columbia, Brown, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and the University of Florida who are collaborating in the search for the dark matter in the universe. The XENON project is funded by the National Science Foundation. XENON scientists are designing a detector that will use liquid xenon in an attempt to detect WIMPs. Once built, the detector will be housed at the underground Gran Sasso Lab in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, east of Rome. Shutt says they hope to have the detector up and running within a year.

The hunt for WIMPs is also underway deep in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota, where Akerib and nearly 50 members from 13 institutions work together as the Cyrogenic Dark Matter Search II (CDMS II) team.

Both the XENON and the CDMS II teams are looking for a signal in the form of electrons, light or heat that is given off when a WIMP collides with the atoms in the detectors. The detectors are shielded against radioactive noise and cosmic rays that might contaminate evidence of the presence of a WIMP.

With his appointment to the Pytte chair, Shutt renews a collaboration with Akerib that began at the Center for Particle Astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, where the two physicists participated in CDMS as postdoctoral fellows.Shutt received his doctoral degree in physics in 1993 from UC Berkeley and his undergraduate degree from Texas A & M University.

“I'm thrilled to have Tom here. He wonderfully complements the existing program,” said Akerib. “Given our closely related science goals, we will have the opportunity to work together again on joint projects, including both CDMS and XENON, and take advantage of synergies, each other's expertise and intellectual ties between members of our groups.”

Case has one of the strongest particle astrophysics experimental programs in the country. According to Lawrence Krauss, Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and chair of the department, the personnel in the area include four theorists and four experimentalists on the faculty, a dozen postdoctoral fellows and another dozen graduate students.

In addition to hiring current Case graduate students for his research group, Shutt will bring with him from Princeton two, third-year graduate students, Eric Dahl and John Kwong. He will also be joined by Alexander Bolozdynya, a research associate who formerly worked with Akerib but is now a member of the XENON team.

Shutt'´s research interests also extend to solar neutrinos. (The late physicist Frederick Reines, who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of neutrinos, was professor and head of the physics department at Case Institute of Technology from 1959 to 1966.)

There are three types, or “flavors,” of solar neutrinos, Shutt explained. Those created in the burning reaction in the core of the sun are electron-flavored. “But we have recently learned that the neutrinos change flavor from electron to ‘muon’ or ‘tau’ as they travel to Earth,” Shutt said. “This explains a long-standing puzzle in that too few electron-type solar neutrinos are measured on Earth.”

Neutrinos also provide a unique probe of the center of the Sun. They are so tiny that most escape unhindered to the surface and beyond. Heat from the Sun's core, by contrast, takes millions of years to diffuse out to the surface, so that sunlight provides only an indirect probe of the nuclear burning allowing for life on Earth.

“Tom will further broaden our particle astrophysics experimental program through his work on neutrino physics and astrophysics,” said Krauss. “He adds depth to our program in the experimental detection of dark matter. With Akerib doing CDMS and Shutt doing a new XENON technology, we will be involved in the two major ongoing initiatives in this area.”

 

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