Advancing Basic Science for Humanity
Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology
From the far reaches of the universe to the interaction of high-energy particles, the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) explores nature in all its scales while seeking answers to fundamental questions about the origin, structure and composition of the cosmos.
KIPAC is an independent laboratory of Stanford University, established in 2003 by a grant from Fred Kavli and The Kavli Foundation, and funded additionally by Stanford and the United States Department of Energy. Housed at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and led by Risa Wechsler, Associate Professor of Physics at Stanford and of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at SLAC, KIPAC includes more than 130 researchers as members, associates or affiliates. Among its main research areas:
- Cosmology. KIPAC scientists study the largest features of the universe, including galaxy clusters and the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation left over from the Big Bang. It observes galaxy clusters to gain insights into their origin, the evolution of the universe, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy (see below). KIPAC is involved in efforts to measure the polarization in the CMB and to detect patterns that shed light on the very early “inflationary” stage of the universe.
- High-energy astrophysics. KIPAC studies matter in states of extreme compression and energy, such as black holes and pulsars. This is a challenging realm for both theory and observation, where much of the matter is literally invisible and the forces at work may or may not follow the laws that apply elsewhere in the universe.
- Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Increasingly accurate observations of the universe have led to estimates of its total mass that greatly exceed the objects we can observe, leading to the conclusion that most matter is “dark” – undetectable by any known means. Astronomers also widely believe that a powerful force (“dark energy”) is working against gravity to spur the universe’s expansion. Drawing on both theoretical and experimental expertise, KIPAC is attempting to detect the particle that makes up the unseen dark matter, and to unlock the mystery of dark energy.
KIPAC is based at a world-class particle physics facility, SLAC, and is also involved in a number of major earth- and space-based astronomical projects. These include the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), planned for construction in Chile and expected to see first light in 2014, and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (formerly GLAST). Another major initiative of the Institute is KIPAC Computational Physics, in which theoretical and experimental physicists work together on some of the most challenging problems in particle astrophysics and cosmology.