Therein lies a tale

Exploring dark matter.

The evidence for dark matter is out there in space: of unseen stuff that warps the curve of light around galaxies, in the velocity of stars and the mass of galaxy clusters—with numbers of the v and m that don’t add up if all we’re counting is stars, gas, dust. Ballpark how much is missing and physicists figure dark matter accounts for about 85 percent of the mass in the universe. Yet since scientists began talking about dark matter 80 years ago (same year that Buck Rogers went on the radio, hmm …), they still haven’t seen it—not directly, leastwise.

So they look: in the heavens, with telescopes, and right here on Earth with ultra-sensitive detectors. That’s where physicist Betty Young enters our story: part of the so-called Cryogenic Dark Matter Search seeking evidence of dark matter particles pinging against the detectors she and others have designed and stacked in the bottom of an old iron mine in Minnesota. The reasoning goes: If dark matter makes up so much of the universe, it envelops our galaxy, and our planet sails in dark matter’s wind—and we can find evidence of it here.

In putting together a profile of Young for this edition, writer Roberta Kwok asks the scientist why she does what she does. “It’s sort of like asking Galileo, well, why bother using a telescope to look out there?” Young answers.

Except there’s this: There was once a lass named Betty who thought science was cool but it wasn’t really for girls. A familiar story, yes? And one related to the second in a series of articles SCM has done this year on how the Mission Campus has been transformed by the arrival of women en force over the past half-century—as students (see the Fall 2011 mag) but also (this mag) as teachers and scholars, role models and administrators, shapers of tradition, correctors of misperceptions, and shifters of attitudes among colleagues and students alike.

It’s like asking, Why bother? Figure that you’re trying to unlock the secrets of the universe and of the human heart and we’re all in this together.

But we can also acknowledge that, perhaps, there are some secrets that should be kept, some truths left unspoken. Take, for instance, that fierce creature on the cover of this mag: Tradition holds that the individual who wears the costume of Bucky Bronco is sworn not to reveal his or her true identity. But we have here a special case: she who first donned the horse head and became a costumed hero, stirrer of team spirit and rallier of pep at sports events wherever Santa Clara plays. That is a tale we now tell. So in this edition, even if we can’t quite take you back to the Big Bang, we can reveal the story behind Bucky’s beginnings. And you read right: she.

Keep the faith,

Steven Boyd Saum

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