Probing Fundamental Physics

Cynthia Chiang

The primary objective of SPIDER is to study the genesis of the early Universe, probing fundamental physics at energy scales that are far beyond the reach of terrestrial particle accelerators. The main result will be to experimentally validate the simplest GUT-scale inflationary models or to exclude them, thereby pointing toward a lower energy-scale or more complex model space. SPIDER also addresses two important secondary science goals. The most immediate of these will be to dramatically improve our understanding of the interstellar medium in our own Milky Way Galaxy, especially the nature of diffuse high latitude dust and its interactions with the large scale magnetic field of the Galaxy. Additionally, SPIDER will provide an unambiguous measurement of the weak gravitational lensing of the CMB polarization resulting from the integrated distribution of matter along the line of sight to the surface of last scattering.

These scientific objectives will be realized through an analysis of the imprint of primordial gravitational waves on the polarization of the microwave background radiation (CMB) as measured by SPIDER, an experiment that will be flown on an Antarctic Long Duration Balloon (LDB) during the Austral summer of 2012/2013.

Data with unprecedented sensitivity and control of systematic effects are not sufficient to achieve the scientific goals outlined above. Realizing this potential will require an analysis pipeline that is equally sophisticated. The scale of the problem is daunting - the raw dataset from SPIDER will be seven times larger than that of the HFI instrument on board the Planck satellite. Distilling the scientific value from this massive time-ordered data set, including a rigorous treatment of mode loss, noise, and Galactic foreground emission, is an undertaking nearly as challenging as the experimental effort. We will leverage our team's involvement in the analysis of the Planck data to perform a joint study of the SPIDER and the Planck datasets, which will increase the scientific returns from both missions.

Developing Technology and Leadership


The popular fascination with cosmology and the exciting nature of scientific ballooning from Antarctica provides a unique opportunity to educate and engage the public. We regularly host local student groups on laboratory tours, and participate with popular media outlets such as BBC’s Horizon and Nature News. SPIDER is a collaborative project with a high degree of student leadership. Graduate students have led integration and test campaigns, and fully participate in the analysis. Of the twelve graduate students, six are women. The scale and difficulty of the analysis effort requires that these highly talented individuals benefit from the guidance of more experienced postdoctoral researchers. These scholars, in turn, have the unique opportunity to benefit from exposure to both SPIDER and Planck data, as well as the mentoring of the PIs and collaborators.