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Mark Wilkinson

Dr Mark Wilkinson

Dr Mark Wilkinson

Research Fellow

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Near-field cosmology with local galaxies

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University of Leicester

Dates: Oct 2011-Sep 2014

Value: £322,972.58

Summary: My research focuses on the study of dark matter, the non-luminous component of the Universe which is responsible for holding galaxies together. Without dark matter, our own Galaxy (the Milky Way) would not have survived long enough to form stars like the Sun, which are surrounded by rocky planets capable of supporting life. The study of dark matter is thus central to our understanding of how galaxies like the Milky Way formed and evolved. In my research, I use the motions of stars in small nearby galaxies to look for evidence of dark matter. We infer the presence of large amounts of dark matter in these galaxies from the observation that their component stars move at such high speeds that they should all escape very rapidly and the galaxies should dissolve. The fact that the galaxies are still orbiting the Milky Way suggests that the gravitational attraction of an unseen massive component (which we call dark matter) must be preventing the stars from escaping. Thus, the speeds of the stars provide a way to estimate the amount of dark matter in a galaxy: the faster the stars are moving in a particular region, the more dark matter is required to be present. I use cutting edge high performance computers to build models of these galaxies and map out their dark matter. We are in a very exciting era for dark matter research, with results from a number of different scientific fields poised to shed light on its nature. My work complements experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment in Geneva may produce dark matter particles in the laboratory for the first time. Vast underground detectors are also trying to pick out the signs of dark matter particles passing through the Earth. Combining the results of these studies with research such as my own (which looks for dark matter in our Galaxy and other, nearby systems using the motions of their stars), will lead to significant advances in our understanding of the nature of dark matter.

Near-field cosmology in the Local Group

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Organisation: University of Leicester

Dates: Oct 2006-Sep 2011

Value: £487,471.35

Summary: My current research focuses on the study of dark matter, the non-luminous component of the Universe which is responsible for holding galaxies together. Without dark matter, our own Galaxy (the Milky Way) would not have survived long enough to form stars like the Sun, which are surrounded by rocky planets capable of supporting life. The study of dark matter is thus central to our understanding of how galaxies like the Milky Way formed and evolved. In my research, I use the motions of stars in galaxies to look for evidence of dark matter. My particular interest is in the small satellite galaxies that orbit our own galaxy. These objects are particularly useful for dark matter studies. We infer the presence of large amounts of dark matter in these galaxies from the observation that their component stars move at such high speeds that they should all escape very rapidly and the galaxies should dissolve. The fact that the galaxies are still observable suggests that the gravitational attraction of an unseen massive component (which we call dark matter) must be preventing the stars from escaping. Thus, the speeds of the stars provide a way to estimate the amount of dark matter in a galaxy: the faster the stars are moving in a particular region, the more dark matter is required to be present. We are entering a very exciting era for the study of dark matter, with results from a number of different scientific fields poised to shed light on its nature. Within the next five years, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment in Geneva may produce dark matter particles in the laboratory for the first time. Vast underground detectors are also trying to pick out the signs of dark matter particles passing through the Earth. Combining the results of these studies with research such as my own which looks for dark matter in our Galaxy and other, nearby systems using the motions of their stars, will lead to significant advances in our understanding of the nature of dark matter.

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