Barry University Professor awarded Fulbright scholarship to study Axion Particles

Barry University Professor of Physics Maurizio Giannotti, Ph.D., has been awarded a 2021-22 Fulbright scholarship to conduct research at the University of Zaragoza in Spain. His research aims to improve our understanding of the physics of light and weakly interacting particles (WISPs), particularly axions, and their role in cosmology and astrophysics. Axions are particles that are many times lighter than electrons and thought to be a component of dark matter.

Dark matter is important to understand as it is thought to make up about 85 percent of the matter in the universe. Its presence is implied in gravitational effects that cannot be explained unless more matter is present than can be seen.

At the University of Zaragoza, he will work on the IAXO project. IAXO stands for International AXion Observatory and involves about 100 scientists worldwide. IAXO is a huge telescope that will be pointing the sun. The sun is expected to produce axions. If so, IAXO should be able to see them.

Dr. Giannotti is a founding member of the IAXO Collaboration Board, established in July 2017. Together with members from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he represents the United States in the international collaboration.

In 2019, the group went through a review process by the DESY laboratory PRC (Physics Review Committee).

“I was honored to be one of the eight members selected to defend the project,” Dr. Giannotti said.

The review was successful and DESY agreed to host the experiment. The construction of a preliminary telescope (called BabyIAXO) is expected to start soon.

“Even this preliminary telescope will be the most powerful instrument to date to observe solar axions,” Dr. Giannotti said. “Thus, this is an extremely important period for this project.”

At the University of Zaragoza, Dr. Giannotti will be working closely with Igor Irastorza, Ph.D., at the Centro de Astropartículas y Física de Altas Energías (CAPA) and other scientists involved in the physics and astrophysics of axions.

“In my opinion, expanding international collaborations is extremely important for Barry University,” Dr. Giannotti said. “We are a great university that deserves to be known abroad.”

Barry Chair of Physical Sciences Zuzana Zajickova, Ph.D. – herself a Fulbright Scholar (2019-20) — agrees.

“Dr. Giannotti’s participation in the Fulbright program and his many research accomplishments bring additional prestige and recognition to Barry,” Dr. Zajickova wrote in support of Dr. Giannotti for the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. “We hope that his collaborators will continue their interest in visiting our campus to enhance educational and cultural experience of our faculty and students.”

Dr. Giannotti’s research will be a topic of discussion with the Astro Math and Physics (AMP) Club, which he co-advises with professor Sanja Zivanovic.

“Some of these students are extremely curious and fascinated by physics and several are already asking me to give talks about axions and the new telescope we plan to build,” Dr. Giannotti said.

He also plans to offer lectures regarding his research to educate and engage the community at large.

Dr. Giannotti is building a vast array of global research credits, including work made possible through a NASA-funded grant.


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