Clare Burrage

2023 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Clare Burrage

Current Position:
Professor of Physics

University of Nottingham

Astrophysics & Cosmology

Recognized for: Theoretical predictions that have guided the development of entirely new experiments to probe the nature of dark energy—one of the biggest challenges in modern cosmology—in a compact, laboratory setting.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Cosmology, Modified Gravity, Cosmology

Previous Positions:

MA and PhD, University of Cambridge
Scientific Associate, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY, Germany
Post-Doctoral Assistant, University of Geneva, Switzerland
Anne McLaren Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow, University of Nottingham

Research Summary:

Dark energy is the name we give to the unknown substance that causes the universe to expand at an accelerating speed. It is believed to make up about 70% of the universe today. But how might we detect it? This question has puzzled scientists for decades. Thanks to the work of Clare Burrage, PhD, we are now one step closer to detecting it and revealing its nature for the first time.

Currently we know very little about what dark energy is, or why it has such a big effect on cosmology but avoids all our other experimental searches. A popular explanation is that it has “chameleon-like” behavior: while it prevails in empty space at large scales, its strength changes with the environment so that massive objects on Earth barely feel it. Burrage, however, first pointed out that this behavior doesn’t mean that dark energy is undetectable on our planet. Her theoretical work proved that small and light objects in nearly vacuum environment on Earth may still feel the full force of dark energy. This work transformed the field to devise cutting-edge measurements. With experimental collaborators and other independent groups worldwide, Burrage pioneered a very sensitive search method for dark energy using atom interferometry, in which a laboratory vacuum chamber mimics the nearly empty space of the universe and the atomic nuclei of a gas of cold atoms are small enough to feel the dark energy force. Her effort has disputed some of the most popular dark energy models, and pushed the community on the verge of directly detecting dark energy.

Burrage also suggested new ways of searching for dark energy at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, and these searches have been performed by CERN’s ATLAS collaboration. Very recently, she raised another possibility to detect dark energy via satellite observation of the motion of stars in the Milky Way. Altogether, she has uncovered new information at all physical scales, from a compact laboratory to cosmological distances, to elucidate the mysteries around dark energy.

We don’t currently understand what our Universe is made of or why it is expanding at an accelerated rate. I‘ve shown how using precision measurements in terrestrial laboratories can shed light on these cosmological mysteries.

Key Publications: 

  1. C. Burrage, E.J. Copeland, E.A. Hinds. Probing Dark Energy with Atom Interferometry. Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, 2015.
  2. P. Brax, C. Burrage, C. Englert, M. Spannowsky. LHC Signatures of Scalar Dark Energy. Phys. Rev. D, 2016.
  3. C.A.J. O’Hare, C. Burrage. Stellar Kinematics from the Symmetron Fifth Force in the Milky Way Disk. Phys. Rev. D, 2018.
  4. D.O. Sabulsky, I. Dutta, E.A. Hinds, B. Elder, C. Burrage, E.J. Copeland. Experiment to Detect Dark Energy Forces Using Atom Interferometry. Phys. Rev. Lett., 2019.

Other Honors: 

2015 Maxwell Medal and Prize, Institute of Physics
2013—2021 University Research Fellowship, Royal Society
2011—2012 Anne McLaren Fellowship, University of Nottingham

In the Media: 

Physics World – Fifth Force Could Explain Puzzling Orbits of Dwarf Galaxies

Futurism – Scientists Say Space Is Filled with Invisible Walls

Vice – Space Has Invisible Walls Created by Mysterious 'Symmetrons,' Scientists Propose

New Scientist – We Have Seen Hints of a New Fundamental Force of Nature

Quanta Magazine – Dark Energy Tested on a Tabletop

Sixty Symbols – Shining Light through Walls

Sixty Symbols – Chameleon Particles and Dark Energy