Feature Story | 8-May-2023

Rouven Essig: Then and Now / 2012 Early Career Award Winner

Theoretical particle physicist Rouven Essig is pioneering new experiments and detection methods in the search for knowledge about dark matter

DOE/US Department of Energy


Extensive evidence suggests that a staggering 85% of the matter in our universe is dark matter. However, its identity remains unknown. Even its most basic properties – such as how much it weighs and how it interacts with known matter – remain unknown.

As a theoretical particle physicist, I conceive of new ideas for what constitutes dark matter. I also develop new experimental concepts for how to detect dark matter particles and any unknown forces that allow dark matter to interact with ordinary matter. My theoretical research impacts how other scientists do research at the cosmic, intensity, and energy frontiers.

For the cosmic frontier, I have helped pioneer novel detection concepts to search for dark matter below the mass of protons. This has led to new exciting experiments, such as SENSEI, as well as new DOE research and development efforts, such as OSCURA. These projects have unprecedented sensitivity to a multitude of dark matter candidates that were previously unexplored.

For the intensity frontier, I have conceived of new experiments. In these experiments, intense beams of electrons hit a target and potentially create particles that mediate new forces beyond the known electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces. This has led to new fixed-target experiments at DOE’s Jefferson Lab, including APEX and HPS.  

For the energy frontier, I have shown how the Higgs bosons produced in high-energy proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider can shed light on dark matter and new forces. This has led to new searches for non-standard decays of the Higgs boson, in which it disintegrates in ways not expected by our standard theory.

Most importantly, the DOE Early Career Award allowed me to train several graduate students and a postdoctoral researcher in particle physics. It enabled me to establish a strong research program and research group early on in my career, providing a strong foundation from which I continue to benefit.


Rouven Essig is a professor in the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University.


The Early Career Research Program provides financial support that is foundational to early career investigators, enabling them to define and direct independent research in areas important to DOE missions. The development of outstanding scientists and research leaders is of paramount importance to the Department of Energy Office of Science. By investing in the next generation of researchers, the Office of Science champions lifelong careers in discovery science.

For more information, please go to the Early Career Research Program.


Title: Particle Physics at the Cosmic, Intensity, and Energy Frontiers


Major efforts at the intensity, cosmic, and energy frontiers of particle physics are rapidly furthering our understanding of the fundamental constituents of Nature and their interactions. The overall objectives of this research project are (1) to interpret and develop the theoretical implications of the data collected at these frontiers and (2) to provide the theoretical motivation, basis, and ideas for new experiments and for new analyses of experimental data.

Within the Intensity Frontier, an experimental search for a new force mediated by a GeV‐scale gauge boson will be carried out with the A' Experiment (APEX) and the Heavy Photon Search (HPS), both at Jefferson Laboratory. Within the Cosmic Frontier, contributions are planned to the search for dark matter particles with the Fermi Gamma‐ray Space Telescope and other instruments. A detailed exploration will also be performed of new direct detection strategies for dark matter particles with sub‐GeV masses to facilitate the development of new experiments. In addition, the theoretical implications of existing and future dark‐ matter‐related anomalies will be examined. Within the Energy Frontier, the implications of the data from the Large Hadron Collider will be investigated. Novel search strategies will be developed to aid the search for new phenomena not described by the Standard Model of particle physics. By combining insights from all three particle physics frontiers, this research aims to increase our understanding of fundamental particle physics.


D Curtin, R Essig, S Gori, P Jaiswal, A Katz, T Liu, Z Liu, D McKeen, J Shelton, M Strassler, Z Surujon, B Tweedie, and YM Zhong, “Exotic decays of the 125 GeV Higgs boson.” Phys Rev D 90, 75004 (2014). [DOI: /10.1103/PhysRevD.90.075004]

R Essig, M Fernández-Serra, J Mardon, A Soto, T Volansky & TT Yu, “Direct detection of sub-GeV dark matter with semiconductor targets.” Journal of High Energy Physics 2016, 46 (2016). [DOI: /10.1007/JHEP05(2016)046]

R Essig, T Volansky, and TT Yu, “New constraints and prospects for sub-GeV dark matter scattering off electrons in xenon.” Phys Rev D 96, 043017 (2017). [DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevD.96.043017] 

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