RWTH Aachen Particle Physics Theory

Axions, WIMPs or WISPs? Searching for dark matter

July 3rd, 2015 | by

PhD student Mathieu Pellen reports from a dark matter workshop in Zaragoza.

The quest for the understanding of dark matter is certainly one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. It is thus an extremely hot topic in the particle physics community. 


The 11th Patras Workshop on Axions, WIMPs and WISPs has been held in the beautiful and hot city of Zaragoza (Spain) (21-26 June 2015). As the title indicates, the focus was on dark matter and more particularly on axions.

Axions have been originally proposed to solve the strong CP problem. They are light particles (of the order of an electron-Volt or even lighter). These can be detected in light-shinning-through-wall experiments or in low background underground laboratories like the one of Canfranc (which has been one the highlights of the conference). During the conference, several innovative experiments looking for axions, axion-like particles or dark photons have been presented. New mechanisms predicting the existence of light particles have been also proposed.

In addition to light particles, Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) are the best motivated solution to account for the dark matter observed in our Universe. WIMPs are studied in three different ways: the first is their production at collider experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC, Geneva). The second is the detection of nuclear recoils produced by dark matter particles scattering on heavy nuclei in underground facilities such as the Grand Sasso laboratory in Italy. Finally, when two dark matter particles annihilate in the galaxy, they produce cosmic rays of standard model particles. These can be detected in satellite-based experiments such as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02, partly built at the RWTH Aachen University) on the International Space Station (ISS).

My contribution to the conference focuses on the last possibility. I have reported exciting results on a project carried out with Leila Ali Cavasonza and Michael Krämer.CCnew2_09_14 Indeed, AMS-02 has reported an excess in the measurement of the positron flux (red date points, left figure) compared to standard expectations from astrophysical sources (green curve, left figure). This has triggered a lot of interest recently. The reason is that anti-particles are an extremely interesting observable when searching for dark matter. Indeed they are rarely produced from standard astrophysical sources. Thus the discovery of excesses in anti-particles fluxes could be already a smoking gun for the existence of dark matter. Nowadays, the dark matter contribution is believed to be sub-dominant in the AMS-02 observations. However, the absence of a “bump” – as expected from a from a dark matter signal – in the very smooth AMS-02 spectrum is a great opportunity to set limits on dark matter annihilation cross sections.

MathieuWe have derived new upper limits on the annihilation cross section using a new method that allows us to study dark matter with masses ranging from several TeV down to 1 GeV. In particular we have focused on the impact of massive electro-weak gauge bosons on these limits. Even if their contributions are limited, they are of prime importance as they produce all standard model particles when decaying. I have thus shown that there is a promising complementarity between different fluxes of anti-particles. This opens up new ways to exclude or find dark matter in the next few years using indirect detection.

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