Interview with Ankit Beniwal

Hej! My name is Ankit Beniwal, and I’m from Adelaide, Australia. I’m a short-term (6 months)
postdoc at the Oskar Klein Centre, Stockholm, Sweden. Before coming to OKC, I finished my PhD in theoretical particle physics at the University of Adelaide. I also did my first class Honours in theoretical and experimental particle physics at the same university.

Unlike many physicists who became passionate about physics at a young age, I wasn’t aware of physics in general when I was young. This completely changed when I took physics in year 11 and 12. I had an excellent (female) physics teacher named Ms Lindy Bartlett. She loves physics and encourages students by saying “Physics is gold!” By the time I finished high school, my love for physics had grown so much that I decided to undertake an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Adelaide, and later went on to do a PhD.

I love being a scientist. Not only do we get paid to study the world around us, we are also trying to answer some of the fundamental questions in physics. However, in the particle physics community, there is a strong push for more publications; it’s ultimately not a bad thing, but it is hard for a postdoc applicant as he/she is partially judged on this basis. I solely believe in the quality of work rather than quantity. With that said, I also need to improve on the latter aspect of being a scientist.

What is your field of research?
My research interests include dark matter (DM) phenomenology, astroparticle and Higgs physics. In the past, I’ve studied the phenomenology of Higgs portal DM models where DM interacts with the Standard Model (SM) particles via the Higgs boson. This leads to a rich DM phenomenology at colliders, indirect and direct DM detection experiments. In addition, these models can also help in explaining the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry in our Universe.

At the OKC, I’m working under Prof. Joakim Edsjö on secluded DM models. In these models, the DM particle annihilates into metastable mediators which subsequently decays into SM particles. By having a weak coupling to SM particles, the models are difficult to detect directly. On the other hand, they offer much better indirect detection probes via gamma rays, charged particles and/or neutrinos. The main motivation behind these models is that a neutrino signal from DM annihilation in the Sun would generally be enhanced relative to the standard scenario, i.e., one where DM annihilates directly into SM particles via a short-lived mediator.

What are your research plans for your time in Sweden?
Although 6-months isn’t a long time, my plan is to understand the secluded DM models and their phenomenology at neutrino telescopes in more detail. In particular, I’d like to write up a paper with Joakim and others on this work.

Which of your skills are you most proud of? What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
I’m particularly proud of the skills that I’ve acquired over the course of my PhD. These include computing skills (being proficient in multiple computing languages and high-performance computing), teaching, tutoring, mentoring and being able to learn new concepts in a short period of time.

There’s always room for more improvement. For instance, I’d like to get better at time management, writing more research papers, and initiating new collaborations.

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
In the last few years, tremendous progress has been made in all areas of physics ranging from neutrinos, DM and gravitational waves (GW). Thus, it is an opportune moment to be involved in these areas.

Some future prospects that I’m looking forward to are as follows.
1. Many experiments are underway to better understand the neutrino properties (e.g., neutrino oscillations, CP-violating phase, absolute neutrino masses etc). This is exciting news!
2. Future direct DM search experiments will tell us if the particle description of DM is consistent or not. These experiments are very close to reaching the neutrino floor where they’ll also become sensitive to neutrinos. In addition, many planned experiments will try to either confirm or refute the long-standing annual modulation signal seen by the DAMA experiment.
3. Multiple GW signals have been detected. We are now entering a new era of GW astronomy. Future space-based GW experiments such as LISA will be able to observe GW signals from the electroweak phase transition, a simple mechanism that explains the matter-antimatter asymmetry in our Universe.

If I offered you unlimited funding right now, to be spent on something scientifically relevant, what would you use it for?
If I had unlimited funding, I’d spend it on new computing resources, in particular, on supercomputers. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to find new resources for performing multi-dimensional parameter space scans.

With no evidence of a DM signal, we must combine all available data from various DM searches and make statistical inferences on as many DM models as possible. This is the primary goal of the Global And Modular Beyond-the-standard-model Inference Tool (GAMBIT). To achieve these goals, we need a large number of computing resources.

What’s your favorite food? Why?
Being originally from India, I’m obviously biased towards Indian food. In particular, I love butter chicken and plain naan. It’s tasty and mouth-watering!

Why did you choose the OKC?
I enjoy working at the OKC. It has a good mixture of cosmologists, astronomers, experimentalists and particle physicists. Its status at the international level is outstanding. The research staff at OKC are also world-renowned scientists in their field of research.

How do you relax after a hard day of work?
From time to time, I try to explore the city. The weather is getting better day-by-day, so I’ll see more of what the city has to offer.

I’m also trying to learn swimming during my stay in Stockholm. This is an activity that has been on my bucket list for a long time. My goal is to become a proficient swimmer, so I can enjoy the beautiful beaches back home.

What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
In the next 50 years, I hope that we can solve some of the biggest problems that are currently faced by mankind, e.g., global warming, fossil fuels, pollution, poverty, etc. Many people are trying to tackle these issues but more support is required from the government and public to solve them.

Scientifically, the most optimistic scenario in my case would be one where we have discovered DM non-gravitationally. Once we have a DM signal, we can hope to understand its properties, e.g., mass, spin, coupling to SM particles, etc.

Ankit is a postdoc in the Stockholm University Physics Department who joined the OKC in the Spring of 2018.
Thanks Ankit! Try the new Saravana Bhavan in Kista for great South Indian food.

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