Describing Dark Matter: A Barry Professor’s Contribution to the InternationalPhysics Community

By Lana Sumner-Borema

Although Barry physics professor Dr. Maurizio Giannotti is not teaching physics this fall, he will return in the spring with fascinating physics adventures to share after conducting research in Europe during his Fall 2021 sabbatical.

Graphic Credit to Barry University

Giannotti graduated from the University La Sapienza in Rome and, after attending graduate school in Italy, came to the United States for research. In the U.S., he began working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Giannotti began teaching at Barry in 2009, while continuing his research in astrophysics and cosmology. As a result of his work, Giannotti has been awarded the opportunity to work as a Fulbright Scholar in Spain on the International Axion Observatory (IAXO). IAXO is a fourth-generation axion helioscope with the purpose of searching for axions, a particle modeled in particle physics and a crucial component of dark matter.

Helioscopes are comparable to telescopes, but used specifically for the sun and sunspots. The particles the helioscope is used to study could help scientists understand more about dark matter.

The European Council of Nuclear Research (CERN) says that IAXO is “a large superconducting magnet that could open a new window on the dark universe.”

Conceptual design of IAXO. Graphic Credit to CERN.

According to CERN, the International Axion Observatory is expected to search for these particles 100,000 times better than past methods.

Giannotti became a member of the IAXO collaboration board in 2017. The effort he put into the project awarded him the ability to conduct the research he is performing as a Fulbright Scholar.

“In 2017, I was one of the eight defendants on a project called the International Axion Observatory before the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchotron (DESY) Physics Review Committee,” said Giannotti. “After successful presentations, they decided to support the IAXO experiment. In the fall semester, I [am] working on this project.”

Giannotti is working at the University of Zaragoza in Spain in the experimental group led by scientists he has collaborated with in the past, including Igor Irastorza, who led an experimental group for the project, and Javier Redondo, who led a theory group.

“Some of my work will consist [of] refining the calculations of the solar axion spectrum and defin[ing] well the IAXO physics potential,” said Giannotti.

He also has plans to travel to DESY, based in Germany and Hungary, and other labs where he has ongoing collaborations.

Beyond his current research, Giannotti is proud to be a founding member of the Feebly Interacting Particles (FIP) Physics Center (FPC), which is based at CERN. Although the group was recently formed, they are planning many future projects.

Conducting research with CERN may be the pinnacle of most physicists' careers, Giannotti never understates the work he has been able to publish at Barry.

“One of the nicest publications I have done is a paper that I wrote with a former lab technician at Barry University, Michael Wise,” said Giannotti. “Using very little money, we put together a Personal Computer (PC) with which we calculated for the first time the impact of a particle called ‘axion’ on massive stars.”

Graphic Credit to IndiaToday

Giannotti was able to follow up this work with another publication about the long monograph of axions, which was published a year ago. Students can find these works and more on Giannotti’s faculty page on Barry’s website.

Barry students, especially those Giannotti has taught in the past, are extremely excited about the opportunity he is pursuing abroad.

Luis Estrada, senior biology and philosophy major and vice president of the astro, math and physics club, was Giannotti’s student in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. Estrada looks forward to hearing about the work Giannotti completes during his semester abroad.

“I think it is incredible that Dr. Giannotti was able to go on this sabbatical to aid in the development of the IAXO collaboration,” said Estrada. “I’m not only happy for him, but also curious to know what the completed project may shine a light on.”

Giannotti welcomes curious students from all disciplines to read his research, join in the conversation, and even join the astro, math and physics club. Researching the dark universe may be in your future, too.