Kerstin Perez

Class of 1948 Career Development Associate Professor of Physics
Interested in using cosmic particles to look for beyond the Standard Model physics, in particular evidence of dark matter interactions.

Research Interests

Professor Perez is interested in using cosmic particles to look for beyond the Standard Model physics, in particular evidence of dark matter interactions. Her work focuses on opening sensitivity to unexplored cosmic signatures, with impact at the intersection of particle physics, astrophysics, and advanced instrumental techniques.

The origin of dark matter is a driving question of contemporary physics. Dark matter particle processes could imprint characteristic signals in cosmic-ray and multi-wavelength observations. Professor Perez’s group leads the silicon detector program for the GAPS experiment, an Antarctic balloon mission that aims to detect low-energy antinuclei as evidence of dark matter annihilation or decay. As the first experiment optimized specifically for low-energy antideuterons, which have been discussed for over a decade as an essentially background-free signature of dark matter, GAPS is poised to make a major contribution to the field. In addition, her group uses the NuSTAR telescope array to probe astrophysical X-ray signatures of both light dark matter and the stellar remnant backgrounds to these exotic particle physics searches. Her group’s work also includes developing the X-ray optics for the International Axion Observatory (IAXO), a next-generation solar axion helioscope.

In addition to mentoring students in research, Professor Perez has a passion for science education and outreach, with a particular emphasis on developing evidence-based classroom practices to increase recruitment and retention of minoritized students.

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Biographical Sketch

Kerstin Perez is originally from West Philadelphia, and earned her B.A. in physics from Columbia University in 2005. She received her Ph.D. from Caltech in 2011, for research using the ATLAS detector at the LHC. She then returned to Columbia University as an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow. In 2015, she was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Haverford College, before joining MIT as an Assistant Professor of Physics in 2016. She has won numerous awards, including a Sloan Research Fellowship, Cottrell Scholar Award, and MIT School of Science Teaching Prize for Undergraduate Education.

Awards & Honors

  • 2021-23 // “Committed to Caring” Award, MIT
  • 2019 // Cottrell Scholar Award
  • 2017 // MIT School of Science Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching "for her outstanding mentoring of undergraduate students, specifically women and students of color."
  • 2017 // Sloan Research Fellowship

Key Publications

  • P. von Doetenchem, K. Perez, et al., “Cosmic-ray Antinuclie as Messengers of New Physics: Status and Outlook for the New Decade,” submitted to Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, arXiv:2002:04163 (2020).

  • B. Roach, et al., ”NuSTAR Tests of Sterile Neutrino Dark Matter: New Galactic Bulge Observations and Combined Impact,” Phys. Rev. D 101, 103011 (2020).

  • F. Rogers, et al., “Large-area Si(Li) detectors for X-ray spectrometry and particle tracking in the GAPS experiment,” JINST, 14, 10 (2019).