Dark Matter and Bright Dreams
Ryan Bonk’s dreams aren’t just big; they’re out of this world.
A physics major with a concentration in engineering, Bonk ’16 plans to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering after his graduation and then to go to work in the aerospace industry, designing equipment that can be used to study the universe. He recently completed an internship in the lab of Christopher Bass, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics, through the College’s McDevitt Center. One of his primary tasks was to design and construct a dark box, which is tightly sealed so as not to allow light in or out of it. He then used the box to test photomultiplier tubes, which capture small amounts of light and convert them into measurable electrical signals.
The overall goal of the project was to build a neutron detector capable of use in underground labs in the search for dark matter.
“It’s one thing to just flick switches and push buttons to run tests, but it’s another to understand the physics behind what is occurring during the test and what the results truly mean,” Bonk said. “The two physics lab courses I have taken so far at Le Moyne have probably helped me the most of all … I learned how to use much of the equipment found in a physics lab setting, so acclimating to the physics research lab was much easier.”
Bonk said that the most rewarding part of his time in the lab was seeing the results of his own hard work being used in part of the search for dark matter, which he calls “an exciting area on the frontier of physics research.” Conversely, he said the most challenging aspect of his work was “grasping all the new information thrown my way in the course of my research.”
Still, he said it was “a welcome challenge” that allowed him to immerse himself in a subject about which he is extremely passionate.
“Throughout my experience (in the lab), I have seen my knowledge in physics grow, especially in the realm of nuclear physics, around which our research is focused,” he said. “I have become much better at working and communicating within a research team. I am much more comfortable in a lab setting than I was when I began, which means I can work more efficiently and problem solve more effectively.”