Peter McNamara

  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • CDM
  • Australian National University
  • Road-tripping around VIC/NSW (2023)

What do you do?

I work to better understand the smallest building blocks that the universe is made out of.  We know many of these building blocks (particles) and how they behave very well already, but in other areas we cannot explain what we see with the building blocks we already know about.  When we look at how the universe behaves in many ways there are things that we cannot explain well without adding some new type of building blocks that we can’t see and that is what we call dark matter.  We think we might be able to detect this dark matter if we are very careful and make an experiment deep underground far away from anything else that we might mistake for dark matter.  Many scientists in Australia, including myself, are building this experiment 1,000 m underground in Victoria to see if we can do this, so we can better understand how the universe works.

How did you get to where you are today?

I studied both physics and engineering as an undergraduate expecting physics to be interesting but ultimately find an engineering job.  However, in my final years I increasingly became interested in particle physics, which tries to understand the most basic building blocks from which the universe is constructed.  During this time I became involved in the experimental particle physics group and started to participate in their research, joining the ATLAS and SABRE collaborations, which needed skills from both of my areas of study.  Over time I increasingly became interested in what dark matter is and whether it’s a particle we could detect on Earth, and so decided to do a Master’s and PhD on this topic.  I started by using the data from the ATLAS experiment at the large hadron collider (in Switzerland/France) to see whether we could create dark matter and detect its presence.  Over time I moved to working on experiments that aim to detect dark matter as it passes through the Earth, in particular looking to see whether we can confirm a detection of dark matter that another experiment has observed (SABRE) and looking into seeing whether we can detect which direction dark matter comes from if detected (Cygnus).

What advice would you give to someone considering studying science?

Do it because you find it interesting and then don’t give up easily or be intimidated.

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