Alvine Kamaha, assistant professor of physics at UCLA and UCLA’s inaugural Keith and Cecilia Terasaki Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences, won the 2024 Edward A. Bouchet Award from the American Physical Society (APS) for her leadership and key accomplishments in the experimental search for dark matter in the universe and the advancement of underrepresented minority scientists. Her research work on radioactive contaminant control programs and on calibration techniques to improve the sensitivity of dark matter detectors are geared to discover dark matter (the missing matter of the universe) and eventually contribute to our understanding of how the universe came to be the way it is and how it will evolve in the future.
According to Kamaha, dark matter is like the wind, you don’t see it but you see its effects. Dark matter has been present since the early universe and played a major role in structure formation from smallest to largest scales (e.g. galaxies) by acting like a glue that clumped them together and kept them bound. So we know it is out there, but finding it has been proven difficult due to its non-luminous nature and the overwhelming fake signals produced by particles from the visible matter. It’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. We have been developing techniques to reduce the size of the haystack to eventually find the needle. And we are getting there.
Kamaha joined the team assembling the state of the art LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) dark matter detector in 2018, initially working within Prof. Cecilia Levy’s group at the University of Albany, SUNY. Kamaha co-led the successful effort to keep LZ free of contamination during its assembly and led the installation and commissioning of the calibration system of the highly sensitive completed instrument. Since then, Kamaha and her colleagues in LZ have been hard at work collecting and analyzing data, as well as developing new calibration technologies to further improve the already impressive sensitivity of the LZ detector. As Kamaha explains, “my lab is going to be a calibration test facility so I’m going to make some novel radioactive sources that are going to be beneficial for future LZ calibrations and any other dark matter detectors.”
Alongside her impressive dark matter research, Kamaha speaks passionately about inspiring students, particularly undergraduate students, to become physicists. “Most of all I want to share my love for physics and demystify it. I have used my time to train students informally and formally on key skills they need to become the scientists of tomorrow,” she said. “I want them to know it doesn’t matter what category they fit in – I want them to know that they can do science and excel at it.”
Kamaha has given talks at multiple minority-serving liberal arts California colleges and served on various panels through organizations such as the National Society of Black Physicists, Women in Science and Engineering, and Women in Physics. In fact, she plans to use the travel grant from the Bouchet Award to expand the scope of these outreach efforts to minority-serving colleges nationwide.
For more detailed information about her work, please visit the Kamaha lab website