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Detecting Dark Matter Axions with a Search Blog

Microwave Cavity
Bjorn Sjodin(
sjodin/) | January 5, 2015
Certified Consultants
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In 1977, the axion, a type of elementary particle, was suggested as a solution to a theoretical
particle physics problem: the strong charge-parity (CP) problem. Later, it was discovered that
Chemical Reaction Engineering
the particle may actually be a component of dark matter. Many experiments are currently
underway that have the goal of detecting axions. In this blog post, well focus on the Axion (/blogs/category/all/chemical-reaction-

Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX), which uses a microwave cavity in an attempt to accomplish engineering/) (34)
this goal. Corrosion (/blogs/category/all/corrosion/)
Detecting an Elusive Particle (/blogs/category/all/electrochemistry/) (13)
Detecting axions ( seems to be extremely challenging. It is Electrodeposition
believed that the particle interacts very weakly with ordinary matter and has a very low mass (/blogs/category/all/electrodeposition/) (6)
similar to a ghost particle. However, some spectacular experiments are currently being
conducted to find this elusive particle. One experiment is attempting to shine light through
walls ( by exposing a laser beam that
contains photons to a 9 Tesla magnetic field. Another experiment is striving to find axions
produced in the sun using a special kind of telescope Conference
( Moreover, another experiment is aiming to detect (/blogs/category/all/conference/)
a postulated miniscule power source in a microwave cavity. (123)
Core Functionality
Challenges in Designing an Axion Detection Experiment functionality/) (149)
Some major challenges in the design of an experiment to detect axions are that no one knows
Equation-Based Modeling
the particles mass or how weakly it couples with ordinary particles. As a matter of fact, the
range of predicted masses spans many orders of magnitude (anything from 1 eV to 1 eV).
modeling/) (22)
Masses outside this range are considered less likely due to theoretical and astrophysical
Geometry (/blogs/category/all/geometry/)
considerations. In addition, the so-called coupling constant, which determines how much the
axion interacts with ordinary matter, is also unknown.
HPC (/blogs/category/all/hpc/) (12)
Several axion experiments are based on the prediction that axions and photons are converted
Meshing (/blogs/category/all/meshing/) (26)
into each other when subjected to a strong magnetic field. The wide range of predicted masses
then translates into detecting electromagnetic radiation, or photons, in a span of frequencies.
(/blogs/category/all/postprocessing/) (32)
Each team is hoping to find the axion in a certain interval of possible masses and coupling
Solvers (/blogs/category/all/solvers/) (19)
constants, and they are constructing experimental equipment accordingly. Depending on the
predicted axion properties, completely different techniques are used. UI (/blogs/category/all/ui/) (5)

The Axion Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX)

AC/DC (/blogs/category/all/acdc/) (75)

The Axion Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX)
( takes place at the Center for MEMS (/blogs/category/all/mems/) (30)

Experimental Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Washington. The experiment uses Plasma (/blogs/category/all/plasma/) (9)
a resonant cylindrical microwave cavity within a large superconducting magnet. If the axions Ray Optics (/blogs/category/all/ray-optics/)
turn out to have low masses, they may show up as microwaves detectable by the microwave (14)
cavity. The experiment can detect low-mass axions in the range of 1 eV to 10 eV. This mass RF (/blogs/category/all/rf/) (57)
is tiny compared to the electron, which weighs 0.5 MeV, or about a million million times more. Semiconductor
The corresponding power spike that the ADMX needs to be able to detect is correspondingly (/blogs/category/all/semiconductor/) (7)
puny, which sets almost impossible requirements for experimental equipment. Wave Optics (/blogs/category/all/wave-
optics/) (24)

Fluid (/blogs/category/all/fluid/)

CFD (/blogs/category/all/cfd/) (72)

(/blogs/category/all/microfluidics/) (18)
Mixer (/blogs/category/all/mixer/) (7)
Molecular Flow
(/blogs/category/all/molecular-flow/) (11)
Pipe Flow (/blogs/category/all/pipe-flow/)
Subsurface Flow
(/blogs/category/all/subsurface-flow/) (13)

(/blogs/category/all/interfacing/) (46)

Acoustics (/blogs/category/all/acoustics/)
Fatigue (/blogs/category/all/fatigue/) (14)
(/blogs/category/all/geomechanics/) (6)
Heat Transfer (/blogs/category/all/heat-
transfer/) (130)
Multibody Dynamics
Nonlinear Structural Materials
materials/) (12)
Structural Mechanics
Gravitational lensing of a galaxy cluster, which indicates the presence of dark matter.
The innovative ADMX microwave receiver has an extremely low signal-to-noise ratio and uses
a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) amplifier thats cooled by liquid
helium. The receiver is able to detect power spikes smaller than one percent of a yoctowatt Multipurpose
(yoctowatt = 10-24 watt). This is an unbelievable level of sensitivity thats close to the (/blogs/category/all/multipurpose/)
theoretical limit set by quantum mechanical fluctuations. (30)

In a way, this experiment cannot fail. Finding the axion in the ADMX would be great, of course. Optimization
However, proving that the axion is not within its search range would in itself count as a very (/blogs/category/all/optimization/) (13)
important research result that would have implications on particle physics and astrophysics. Particle Tracing (/blogs/category/all/particle-
There is also a chance that the ADMX could detect some even more exotic particles, such as
tracing/) (20)
chameleon particles or dark photons
( Tips & Tricks
Trending Topics
topics/) (70)
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(/blogs/category/all/users/) (110)
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form/) Working with M-files
The installation of the Tesla ADMX magnet. (The 8.5 Tesla ADMX magnet being installed at the
University of Washington, Seattle by Lamestlamer Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 (, via Wikimedia

Microwave Cavities
Microwave cavities are used in many types of microwave applications such as radars, cell
phone stations, and microwave ovens. They are also used as resonators because of their
excellent ability to store electromagnetic energy.
In the world of electrical circuits, the cousin of the microwave cavity is the resonant RLC-
circuit, which consists of resistive, inductive, and capacitive circuit elements. A resonant circuit
can be made to resonate at a particular frequency by tuning its capacitors and inductors (the
principle behind a radio tuner ( In a similar
way, a microwave cavity can be tuned to the frequency of the axion (or rather the photon that
the axion is converted into).
Tuning a microwave cavity is made possible by using tuning rods metallic or dielectric rods
that protrude into the cavity. By simply changing the position of the tuning rods, you change
the resonant frequency, or the radio station, of the cavity.
Predicting exactly what change in resonant frequency that a particular alteration in the tuning
rod position will give is made easier using simulation. We simulated this scenario using the RF
Module (
The CAD geometry used in the COMSOL Multiphysics simulation. The cylindrical microwave cavity
and the two metallic tuning rods are shown.

Simulations with the RF Module

We created both a 3D and 2D model of the cavity to compare results. The resonant mode
thats expected to couple to the axion-generated photon the strongest is the so-called TM010
mode. To find this particular mode, employing a 2D simulation is just as suitable as a 3D

The figure below shows the electric field distribution in the 3D model for the TM010 mode.

The TM010 mode showing the electric field component aligned with the axis of the cylinder. The
normalized field magnitude is plotted on three perpendicular slices.
The superconducting magnets externally applied magnetic field has a strong magnetic flux
component along the axis of the cylinder. If we assume that the cylinder axis is the z-axis, then
we can represent the magnetic flux as approximately B = (0,0,Bz). Using this definition of the
z-axis, the resonant TM010 mode is characterized by having a strong electric field component
(Ez). So, with good approximation, we have E = (0,0,Ez). The field power is proportional to the
dot product of E and B (Ez*Bz). The design of the experiment is meant to maximize this
coupling and get the strongest possible signal if an axion-generated photon is created in the

The figure below shows the corresponding 2D simulation.

The electric field in the 2D simulation of the cavity.

The 2D and 3D simulations gave identical results. To understand the TM010 mode, its
sufficient to use a 2D simulation, which is computationally much faster.
The figure below shows a simulation where the resonant frequency is plotted against the
angular position of one of the tuning rods.

Resonant frequency vs. rod position for the cylindrical cavity simulation.

This simulation shows that this particular cavity design could be used for a search in the
interval between ~500-700 MHz.
These results are similar to the results published by the AMDX team
( One difference is that the cavity
and tuning rods used in the simulation do not have the same properties and exact dimensions
as in the ADMX.

Strictly speaking, the classification of a resonant mode being TM010 is only applicable for a
cavity that does not contain tuning rods. As a matter of fact, the tuning rods introduce other
modes similar to TM010. However, one doesnt have to rely on the fundamental mode to get a
coupling between the magnetic and electric fields. Other modes may also give a reasonable
The figure below shows a scan that includes an adjacent mode similar to TM010. Its sensitivity
is in the range between ~740-800 MHz. The figure also includes a comparison to the 3D
Resonant frequency vs. rod position for two adjacent modes. A comparison of the 3D simulation is

It should be noted that even higher-order modes can be used. By using these, one could
potentially scan a wider frequency range without having to change the overall cavity

Recent ADMX Upgrade

According to a recent presentation, the ADMX recently had major upgrades
The universitys experiment team is ready to begin what it refers to as the definitive search
for dark matter axions. In the presentation, ADMX representative Gray Rybka confidently
states that if the axion is out there, we will find it.

Related Resources on Axions

Read this article: Could dark matter be hiding in plain sight in existing
experiments? (
Watch this video on dark matter axions (


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Yalcin Kaymak February 4, 2015 4:29 am

The angle changes 0 to 360 degree. But I see no periodic behavior of results.why?

Bjorn Sjodin February 5, 2015 2:45 pm

Hi Yalcin,

Good question. You are right, there is no periodic behavior. The text actually doesnt
describe this. We followed the convention used at the ADMX web page. This is how it
works: The first tuning rod is rotated in from 0 to 180 degrees while the second one is kept
in its original position. After this the first tuning rod is kept fixed at 180 degrees. Then the
second tuning rod is rotated in from 0 to 180 degrees. The resulting change in frequency
will be continuous and is, for convenience, labeled with angles ranging from 0 to 360

I hope this helps,


Yalcin Kaymak February 5, 2015 4:46 pm

Thanks Bjorn. I have looked at the web page. Now it is clear to me. Each rod can be rotated
about an axis. So when a rod is rotated 180, it either become closest or fartherst to the
other. This means when one is turned 180 and then the other as the same, the whole range
from minimal to maximal seperation is covered, which is not periodic:)

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