Grant: $187,178 - National Science Foundation - Jun. 16, 2009
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Award Description: RUI: Preparing for the era of cosmic microwave background polarimetry. The investigations funded by this award will address several timely questions about the analysis and interpretation of observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, with particular emphasis on upcoming observations of CMB polarization. After suffering from a lack of data for many years, cosmology is now a mature, data-rich discipline, with a standard model that is well-constrained by a variety of different kinds of observation. CMB sky maps, which form a snapshot of the Universe at an age of a few hundred thousand years, have been among the chief drivers of this revolution. The awarding of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for the first CMB maps is an apt indication of the importance of these observations. The spectrum of CMB temperature variations (anisotropy) contains a wealth of information, e.g., providing strong evidence that the Universe is flat, giving measurements of the amounts of dark matter and dark energy, and supporting the theory of inflation. CMB anisotropy maps will continue to drive cosmology forward in the coming years, but an even more exciting prospect is on the horizon: we are beginning to map the polarization of the CMB as well. CMB polarization is significantly weaker than the temperature anisotropy (which is itself tiny), so that detection of it will pose a major observational challenge. The potential rewards, however, are great. In particular, detection of the so-called B component of CMB polarization may provide a direct probe of the inflation epoch in the very early Universe. For this reason, several expert panels, including the National Research Council and a joint task force of the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and NASA, have recommended a major effort to map CMB polarization over the coming decade. The research funded by this grant will address several problems related to the design of the next generation of CMB polarization telescopes. The principal investigator is a member of a collaboration developing MBI/BRAIN, an innovative prototype CMB interferometer for polarization studies, and has extensive experience studying these issues. Techniques will be developed for optimizing the design of future instruments, with particular emphasis on interferometers, which have been less well-studied than single-dish telescopes. A formalism for calculating the effects of a wide variety of systematic errors in such instruments will be developed and used to refine the design of MBI/BRAIN. Numerical methods for extracting the weak but important B component from a polarization map will be developed. Finally, a detailed study will be performed of possible explanations for several anomalies in the large-scale maps of CMB temperature anisotropy. This work will be done by the PI in collaboration with undergraduate researchers. The PI has a successful history of introducing talented undergraduates to the excitement of astrophysics research, which is one of the best ways of inspiring the next generation of scientists. Of the 10 undergraduates the PI has worked with in recent years, roughly half are either in Ph.D. programs in physics-related fields or are current students actively pursuing plans for graduate study.
Project Description: During the initial funding period, we have focused on the development of methods for analyzing the performance of interferometric CMB telescopes, with particular emphasis on efforts to measure polarization. (See the Award Description for a description of the goals this effort.) We have begun to develop analytical (pencil-and-paper) tools for relating the design parameters of an interferometer to its ability to achieve its ultimate science goals. While simple tools such as these are important, they must be supplemented by detailed computer simulations. Our group has been working with collaborators in the US and abroad to develop such tools. In addition, we have continued an ongoing study of large-angular-scale puzzles that have been seen in CMB maps. We have performed calculations to assess whether certain alternative theories of the Universe might provide an explanation of these anomalies. Because this project is in its early stages, no final products have been delivered yet. We expect to produce scientific publications detailing our results, as well as computer code that will be publicly shared with the astrophysics community.
Jobs Summary: .25 FTE Principal Investigator position retained due to receiving ARRA funding. (Total jobs reported: 0)
Project Status: Less Than 50% Completed
This award's data was last updated on Jun. 16, 2009. Help expand these official descriptions using the wiki below.