Undergraduate Research

Eduardo Castro Muñoz ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Eduardo Castro Muñoz ’23

Eduardo Castro Muñoz
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Eduardo Castro Muñoz (he/him) is majoring in physics and Hispanic studies.  He conducts research under the mentorship of Chair of Physics and Astronomy Jason Stalnaker. His project is titled “Construction of an induction coil magnetometer for the 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 advanced stage of the experiment.

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 beyond the Standard Model.

What does the process of doing your research look like? 

I spent most of Winter Term designing the board for the electronics of the detector. This semester I have been mostly working on writing my thesis and will characterize the detector once I am done assembling the electronics!

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

Although we did not detect dark matter in the first science run, we found new limits for the 1-5 Hz range.

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.

Eduardo speaking in front of a blackboardHow did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

I just reached out to professors that I was interested in working with. Being able to conduct research as an undergraduate student is a great chance to see what life as a scientist looks like. My research experience has definitely given an advantage when applying to competitive grad school programs.

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? 

Professor Stalnaker has had a crucial role in my journey as a physicist. As a student coming from an underrepresented community, having a supportive and encouraging mentor has shown me that there is also a place for people like me in physics.

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. I have recently received offers from top institutions to join their physics PhD programs.

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.