Undergraduate Research

Eduardo Castro Muñoz '23

OUR Featured Researcher: Eduardo Castro Muñoz '23

Photo Credit: Jacob Strauss
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Eduardo Castro Muñoz (he/him) is a Physics major conducting mentored research under Professor Jason Stalnaker. His project is titled “Search for Non-Interacting Photons Experiment (SNIPE hunt)". 

Please describe your project: 

The Search for Non-Interacting Photons Experiment (SNIPE) is looking for dark photons using a network of unshielded magnetometers. Dark photons are a candidate for dark matter that do not interact with normal matter. However, the Earth and the Ionosphere form conducting boundaries around a non-conducting gap, formed by the atmosphere, that acts as a transducer that can generate an oscillating magnetic field near the surface of the Earth. The frequency of the oscillating field is proportional to the mass of the dark photon.

The first science run was conducted this summer with three unshielded magnetometers in Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania. The detectors were set up in the wilderness to reduce anthropogenic sources of magnetic field noise.

We are currently developing an induced coil magnetometer to increase the sensitivity of our measurements for the next science run.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project: 

The Search for Non-Interacting Photons Experiment (SNIPE hunt) is looking for dark photons, which are a candidate for dark matter. The SNIPE hunt consists of a network of unshielded magnetometers in the wilderness, located at different places. We are currently developing a more sensitive kind of magnetometer.

Why is your research important?

We have compelling evidence of the existence of Dark matter and predict that it composes around 85% of the universe’s mass. If detected, Dark Matter would revolutionize the entire field of physics because it would expand our understanding of the composition of the universe.

What does the process of doing your research look like? 

This semester we have been working on the design of the induction coil magnetometer. Professor Stalnaker, my labmate Warner Serrano and I meet a few times a week to go over the electromagnetic characteristics that the detector would have. We use theoretical models to predict these values.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I presented a poster at the APS DAMOP 2022 Conference along with Madison Forseth and Derek Jackson Kimball from California State University East Bay.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?    

I loved doing research because it allows me to use the knowledge I have gained in classes, as well as learning content beyond what is taught at the undergraduate level. I have also been able to acquire skills like data analysis, programming and experimental design.   

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher? 

I think Professor Stalnaker is one of the main reasons why I decided to keep doing Physics. Coming from an underprivileged background, I have made feel that I am not as smart as my peers with more preparation. Having a mentor that has the patience to explain complicated concepts in such a way that I can understand and who is also always supportive has been crucial in my time in Oberlin.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?   

Having the chance to get involved in projects like GNOME and the SNIPE hunt has motivated me to learn more Physics. Seeing the applicability of the abstract concepts I have learned (or will learn) in class has made me see the beauty in Physics.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

Approach Professors as soon as you can! Doing research as an undergraduate gives a feel for what working in Physics really looks like. Getting the chance to know people in the field helps you remember that after all, physicists are just normal people and not Sheldon Cooper haha.