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Michael Banks: December 2009 Archives

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Any WIMPs in here?

By Michael Banks

You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the blogs (except this one of course).

Yesterday, the rumour mill was in overdrive as the Resonaances blog said a paper was due to be released a week on Friday in the journal Nature about a possible detection of dark matter.

What constitutes dark matter, which is thought to make up around 90% of the material in the universe, is a hot topic of research these days with researchers vying to be the first to provide direct evidence of it. If true, it would perhaps be the discovery of the year.

The new rumours are based on the latest results from the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) located in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota, which is searching for weakly interacting massive particles or WIMPs — a prime candidate for dark matter.

We were a little suspicious of the rumours as Nature is published on Thursday with embargos for news items about its papers on Wednesday evening at 6pm GMT. However, the paper could have been an advanced online publication in Nature or perhaps was due to be published in Science, which is published every Friday.

The rumours were also backed by a series of talks being given by various members of the CDMS team at labs such as CERN on 18 December - the same date as the paper would be published.

However, Leslie Sage, a senior editor at Nature, wrote to Resonaances saying there was no such Nature paper and the rumours were unfounded.

I contacted Priscilla Cushman from the CDMS collaboration and based at the University of Minnesota, who confirmed to me that indeed they have not submitted a paper to Nature.

So why are they presenting the results at different labs on the same day? “Since there is no major conference at this time in which to present them we are coordinating our talks,” Cushman told physicsworld.com.

CDMS researchers will, however, be publishing an arXiv paper on the morning of Friday 18 December about their latest results, so we will have to wait until then.

Cushman says the group were quite taken aback by the rumours going around. “It is certainly an interesting social phenomena [sic],” says Cushman. But ultimately it was “lots of smoke and not much fire”.

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Future winners may have to do with less

By Michael Banks

You could say physicists have much to be gloomy about these days with the Science and Technology Facilities Council in the UK cutting funding for projects to patch up its budget and scientists in Japan bracing themselves for deep cuts to the country’s science budget next year.

And now future winners of the Nobel prizes could end up feeling short changed if the Nobel Foundation, which manages the finances of the prizes, cuts the amount of money it dishes out every year.

The Foundation announced at the weekend that it might cut the $1.5m it hands out for each of the six prizes awarded each year. The reason, it says, is the credit crunch and the impending recession, which has led to losses in the foundation’s assets.

Indeed, when the credit crunch struck in 2008 the foundation’s assets lost nearly one-fifth and since then has only slightly recovered. “We have sailed the storm, but have taken on some water,” said Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, at a press conference.

So as this year’s Nobel prize winners — including US president Barack Obama who won the Nobel Peace Prize — attend the awards ceremony in Stockholm on Thursday, future winners may have to do with less.