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Practical applications of dark-matter searches

By Hamish Johnston

Pure knowledge isn’t enough these days and physicists often feel pressured to justify their work in terms of “practical applications”. You would think that dark-matter researchers would find this particularly difficult, given the esoteric nature of the stuff that they are looking for, but Leo Stodolsky at MPI-Munich begs to differ.

He has posted an article on the arXiv preprint server outlining how biology and materials science have benefitted from dark matter research in very different ways.

The former is the more straight forward application. Cryodetectors — developed to measure the tiny amounts of energy that dark-matter particles could impart to conventional matter — have been used to boost the sensitivity of mass spectrometers used to study large biological molecules.

The latter application is much more bizarre. In the early days of the CRESST dark matter search, strange signals were observed in the sapphire detector crystals. It turned out that the crystals were clamped too tightly and were cracking. However, because the detector was so sensitive, the signals represent some of the best data ever on microfractures — leading to a better understanding of this process.

The CRESST website also has a page describing these two applications.

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