University of Chicago

Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

Chicago LogoThe Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago (KICP) seeks answers to some of the most profound questions about matter, energy and the universe: What is “dark energy” and what role has it played in the evolution of the universe? What physics shaped the universe in its first moments? What can high-energy particles tell us about the unification of forces? Led by KICP Director Michael Turner, the institute approaches those questions through experiment and theory, with a strong emphasis on seeding and funding new research initiatives. Currently, its four major research programs are:

  • Structures in the Universe. This is an experimental effort aimed at gauging the expansion history of the universe and studying dark energy. Its tools include the Sloan Digital Sky Survey – the most comprehensive survey of the sky yet taken – and the much deeper Dark Energy Survey starting in 2010. Tools also include the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Array of radio telescopes in California and the recently commissioned (1st light achieved in February 2007) 10-meter South Pole Telescope.
  • Cosmic Background Radiation. This program focuses on measuring the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation to investigate the first instants of the universe. Following the success of the DASI, CapMap and QUaD experiments, two new experiments are being developed: SPT-pol, a large detector array for the 10 meter South Pole Telescope; and QUIET, a new experiment using large arrays of detectors on telescopes in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
  • Particles from Space. Bridging the gap between particle physics and astrophysics, this program studies ultra-energetic particles from space to gain insight into their origins, the nature of dark matter, quantum gravity and the structure of space-time itself. It uses a variety of tools including VERITAS, AUGER and COUPP – dedicated telescopes, water tanks and underground “bubble chambers” – to observe known particles and to search for those that are so far only hypothetical, such as the dark-matter WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles).
  • Theory. The mission of this program is to develop theoretical models that draw upon and advance KICPs experimental work. Working at the interface of particle physics, cosmology and gravitation theory, the theory program focuses on topics such as the origin and expansion of the universe, the evolution of large-scale structure, models of dark matter and dark energy and the nature of space-time on small scales.

KICP also brings its research down to earth – and to the community at large – with outreach and education programs, workshops, symposia, seminars and affiliations with researchers in and beyond the Chicago area. Its offerings include cosmology courses for educators and scientists, partnerships with museums and a “Space Explorers” enrichment program for inner-city middle- and high-school students.

The Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics was founded in 2001 as the Center for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. It took its current name in 2004 following the award of a generous endowment from The Kavli Foundation, which ensured that the institute would be a permanent entity at the University of Chicago.

Additional Institute Information / Resources

Galaxy and starsKICP Website

TelescopeEyeing Dark Energy: searching for answers with the South Pole Telescope