Axion dark matter detection

Dark matter makes up more than a quarter of the universe, and scientists have come up with a number of models that predict what, exactly, dark matter is. One candidate is a postulated particle called an axion.

The very lightweight axion particle is predicted a theory that could explain the long-standing puzzle of why the neutron has no electric dipole moment, a term for a separation of electrical charges. The presence of an axion could explain the absence of an EDM.

In rare events, dark matter composed of axions can scatter on strong magnetic fields to create single microwave particles of light, called photons, of frequency equal to the axion mass.

Fermilab’s ADMX experiment is already conducting an initial search for these exotic particles using the world’s lowest-noise radio receiver, operated at a temperature near absolute zero. However, as the experiment proceeds to search at higher frequencies, the radio noise due to the jitter of the quantum vacuum will mask the tiny expected signals.

Superconducting qubits, which have been developed for quantum computing, may be the key to detecting the elusive axion dark matter. These “artificial atoms” are engineered to manipulate single microwave photons, which encode the data of the computation. The quantum computer can be configured to receive single photons not from other qubits within the quantum computer, but rather from the dark matter source. The high fidelity required for robust quantum computing then translates into efficient detection of the axion signal. Moreover, qubits can detect microwave photons by indirectly sensing them and avoiding the quantum jitter; they can thus achieve the low noise levels required for future axion experiments.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, University of Chicago, University of Colorado and Yale University are partners on this initiative.