A SQUID-Based RF Cavity Search for Dark Matter Axions
Hotz, Michael T.
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The axion is a hypothetical elementary particle resulting from a solution to the “Strong-CP” problem. This serious problem in the standard model of particle physics is manifested as a 10<super>10</super> discrepancy between the measured upper limit and the calculated value of the neutron's electric dipole moment. Furthermore, a light (~μeV) axion is an ideal dark matter candidate: axions would have been copiously produced during the Big Bang and would be the primary component of the dark matter in the universe. The resolution of the Strong-CP problem and the discovery of the composition of dark matter are two of the most pressing problems in physics. The observation of a light, dark-matter axion would resolve both of these problems. The Axion Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX) is the most sensitive search for dark-matter axions. Axions in our Milky Way Galaxy may scatter off a magnetic field and convert into microwave photons. ADMX consists of a tunable high-Q RF cavity within the bore of a large, 8.5 Tesla superconducting solenoidal magnet. When the cavity's resonant frequency matches the axion's total energy, the probability of axion-to-photon conversion is enhanced. The cavity's narrow bandwidth requires ADMX to slowly scan possible axion masses. A receiver amplifies, mixes, and digitizes the power developed in the cavity from possible axion-to-photon conversions. This is the most sensitive spectral receiver of microwave radiation in the world. The resulting data is scrutinized for an axion signal above the thermal background. ADMX first operated from 1995-2005 and produced exclusion limits on the energy of dark-matter axions from 1.9 μeV to 3.3 μeV. In order to improve on these limits and continue the search for plausible dark-matter axions, the system was considerably upgraded from 2005 until 2008. In the upgrade, the key technical advance was the use of a dc Superconducting QUantum Interference Device (SQUID) as a microwave amplifier. The SQUID amplifier's noise level is near the allowed minimum from quantum mechanics, allowing ADMX to reduce its thermal noise background by up to 100x. However, SQUIDs are extremely sensitive to magnetic fields, such as those within in ADMX. Integrating a SQUID amplifier into ADMX presented a serious technical challenge. Commissioning the SQUID amplifier was a major focus of my thesis work. This work demonstrates the successful use of a SQUID amplifier in ADMX during operations from 2008-2010. Compared to other dark-matter candidates, the axion's mass and the axion's coupling strength to normal matter and radiation are rather tightly constrained. This allows for the near-definitive elimination or detection of dark-matter axions. A successful detection in ADMX would immediately lead to a determination of the axion's spectral line shape. This shape encodes the history of the Milky Way's formation and is therefore of high scientific importance. The imperfectly-constrained Milky Way dark-matter halo, however, produces remnant uncertainties of the axion signal in both its spectral line-shape and its total intensity, complicating the ADMX search. This work investigates proposed features of dark-matter halo models which enhance ADMX's sensitivity. From these models, this work presents the corresponding exclusion limits for both the local axion density and axion-to-photon coupling strength for axions with mass in the 3.36 μeV to 3.69 μeV region.
- Physics