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Physicist joins major international project mapping universe's expansion

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University physicist has been selected for a global team that will explore dark energy and its effects on expansion of the universe.

Lado Samushia, assistant professor of physics, will take part in the U.S. Department of Energy's Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument project, known as DESI. The project will conduct a survey of distant galaxies through the use of a 4-meter telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Set to start in late 2019, DESI will measure the spectra of tens of millions of galaxies and quasars in the universe over the next five years.

"DESI is important because it will deliver data that is more than 10 times larger than what we have today," Samushia said. "This data will allow us to see how matter is distributed in the universe and will enable us to measure properties of the universe with unprecedented precision."

Samushia's role with the project will be helping make sense of the data collected and compiling and condensing it for use in further scientific explorations. He and colleagues also will try to come up with efficient ways of analyzing the data, looking for statistical patterns in it and trying to figure out what those patterns reveal about dark energy.

"We now know that about 70 percent of the universe is made of dark energy, a mysterious substance that causes accelerated expansion of the universe," Samushia said. "We do not have a good idea of what the nature of this dark energy is. Data collected by DESI will help immensely in our quest to understand dark energy and may even provide a breakthrough that will revolutionize the whole of theoretical physics."

The DESI collaboration currently consists of about 170 members from United Kingdom, France, Spain, Mexico, Korea, China, Australia and a number of U.S. institutions, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley, California. The Department of Energy is paying for most of DESI's costs, with participating institutions contributing by building its components, helping in the development of data reduction software and by providing additional cash.

Samushia was invited to join the DESI team because of the $180,000 Energy Department grant he received for his project "Constructing Large-Scale Structure Catalogs for DESI Survey."

"I proposed a project to the Department of Energy that involved constructing galaxy catalogs from DESI data, Samushia said. "I was very fortunate and the project was funded. The DESI board decided that this work was important for the experiment and granted me — and K-State — the membership. I am really grateful to my colleagues for giving me this opportunity and am looking forward to actively participate in one of the biggest cosmology experiments of the 21st century."

Samushia calls the DESI project the most significant he has worked on. He also is part of two other space missions, but their launch dates are a few years away. They include the NASA space observatory WFIRST and the Euclid satellite missions managed by the European Space Agency.


Lado Samushia


Physics department 


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Lado Samushia, assistant professor of physics at Kansas State University

Lado Samushia, assistant professor of physics at Kansas State University.