Aprile leads the XENON dark matter experiment, one of several efforts to detect the weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs, thought to make up dark matter, an invisible substance believed to make up much of the universe.
In a lab beneath Italy’s Apennine Mountains, Aprile’s team has built ever-more-sensitive detectors to look for evidence of WIMPs. The experiments use large amounts of liquid xenon because xenon atoms have massive nuclei that make them an easier target for intercepting passing dark matter particles. Researchers are searching for the flashes of light expected if a WIMP were to crash into a xenon atom.
In a study in Physical Review Letters last fall, Aprile and her colleagues reported that their most stringent tests yet had failed to turn up any dark matter. Since then, the paper has been cited in 300 other studies, and led physicists to narrow their search to a smaller particle and consider other candidates. Aprile founded the XENON Dark Matter Collaboration in 2002; her team includes more than 165 scientists and students from 24 institutions.