Mohapatra Authors Book on Neutrino's Importance

Rabi MohapatraRabi Mohapatra

Distinguished University Professor Rabi Mohapatra recently published The Neutrino Story: One Tiny Particle’s Grand Role in the Cosmos, a book describing the importance of the mysterious particle that Mohapatra has studied for decades.

“The idea for writing this book came to me when I realized how little common people knew about the neutrino and its role in building the universe” said Mohapatra. The book should be understandable to non-scientists with an interest in physics.

In 2020, his paper Neutrino masses and mixings in gauge models with spontaneous parity violation was named one of the three most influential titles in the first fifty years of Physical Review D, which was established to cover the fields of particles, fields, gravitation, and cosmology. This “neutrino mass seesaw" paper, written with Mohapatra’s student Goran Senjanović (then a UMD post-doc) has helped theorists better assess neutrinos and has inspired various experimental quests, as noted in Physics magazine.

Mohapatra has also written two textbooks. The first, Unification and Supersymmetry, appeared in 1986; a second, Massive Neutrinos in Physics and Astrophysics (with Palash B. Pal)in 1989. Each has gone through three editions, and each remains a standard reference in its subfield.

Mohapatra is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India, and a recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Prize. He has written more than 450 papers, with over 45,000 citations. At the University of Maryland, he was named a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher  in 2001 and a Distinguished University Professor in 2016.

Rockafellow One of Three UMD Goldwater Scholars

Ela Rockafellow, a junior physics major who is also a member of the University Honors program in the Honors College, is one of three University of Maryland undergraduates awarded scholarships this year by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.Rockafellow Ela sqEla Rockafellow, courtesy of same

Also receiving the distinction are Sanketh Andhavarapu, a sophomore biological sciences and neuroeconomics (Individual Studies) dual-degree student who is also a member of the University Honors program in the Honors College and Naveen Raman, a junior computer science and mathematics double major who is also a member of the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students in the Honors College.

Over the last decade, UMD’s nominations yielded 37 scholarships—the second most in the nation behind Stanford University. Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University also rank in the top 10.

“Our scholars are already contributing significantly to understanding a broad array of important scientific problems through their research. Collectively, there are advancing our understanding of plasma physics and laser-matter interactions, neurological disorders, and bias in artificial intelligence-based algorithms. These young research stars are on trajectories to make major research contributions throughout their careers,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Infantino has led UMD’s Goldwater Scholarship nominating process since 2001.

Andhavarapu, Raman and Rockafellow were among the 410 Barry Goldwater Scholars selected from 1,256 students nominated nationally this year. Goldwater Scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year. These scholarships are a stepping-stone to future support for the students’ research careers. The Goldwater Foundation has honored 73 UMD winners and five honorable mentions since the program’s first award was given in 1989.

Rockafellow—a Banneker/Key Scholar who went to elementary school in Zambia and graduated from high school in Washington, D.C.—works on one of only three high-power, ultrafast lasers in the world that operates in the mid-infrared wavelength of 3.9 microns. She has co-authored a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters and presented two posters at national American Physical Society meetings.

Since January 2019, Rockafellow has been working in the laboratory of Physics Professor Howard Milchberg, who also holds appointments in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics (IREAP).

First, Rockafellow designed and constructed an autocorrelator—an optical device for measuring the duration of short laser pulses—for the team’s 3.9-micron laser. Then, she was instrumental to a team that measured ionization yield by lasers of 14 orders of magnitude.

"Ela's measurements and analysis were critical to the success of this experiment," Milchberg said. "She set up sensitive imaging optics and wrote really clever algorithms that required her to not only learn about lasers in general, but she had to master our unique mid-infrared system, which is most definitely not a turn-key laser."

Currently, she is running simulations and conducting experiments measuring terahertz radiation generation.

“Ela’s level of scholarly activity and publication is rare and exceptional, and I can say without qualification that Ela is the one of the best undergraduate students I have seen at the University of Maryland,” said one of Ela’s course instructors, Thomas E. Murphy, Keystone Professor of ECE and director of IREAP. “She exhibits a rare combination of intelligence, creativity and dedication that I seldom find, even in graduate students.”

She also has a passion for teaching others. Rockafellow has been an undergraduate teaching assistant for several physics courses and is currently involved in designing a physics course about diversity, equity and inclusion that will be taught in the fall.

She also serves as outreach coordinator and as a volunteer tutor for the university’s Society of Physics Students chapter and was the mentor coordinator for the 2021 Conference for Undergraduate Underrepresented Minorities in Physics (CU2MIP).

Outside of school, she has been competing in equestrian events since she was 6 years old and she started wrestling in eighth grade, competing as one of the only female wrestlers in the league for the next five years. Rockafellow is also a talented artist and painter.

After graduation, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and continue her work in experimental intense laser/matter interactions. 

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To read more: https://cmns.umd.edu/news-events/features/4759

Media Relations Contact: Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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NSF Fellowships Awarded to 4 Students, 1 Alumnus

Four graduate students and a recent alumnus of the Department of Physics have received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, which recognize outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Across the university, 21 undergraduates and recent alumni were among the fellowship winners announced by the NSF. Thirteen were from the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS).

CMNS graduate student fellowship recipients:

  • Richard Barney, physics graduate student
  • Joshua Chiel, physics graduate student
  • Robert Dalka, physics graduate student
  • Karen Gu, biological sciences graduate student
  • Jameson O’Reilly, physics graduate student

CMNS undergraduate student fellowship recipients:

  • Tyler Hoffman, mathematics major
  • John Lathrop, mathematics and mechanical engineering dual-degree student
  • Jesse Matthews, mathematics and chemical engineering dual-degree student
  • Madison Plunkert, biological sciences major 

CMNS alumni fellowship recipients:

  • Samantha Litvin (B.S. ’16, chemistry)
  • Elissa Moller (B.S. ’20, biological sciences)
  • Scott Moroch (B.S. ’20, physics)
  • Anna Seminara (B.S. ’19, biological sciences)

NSF fellows receive three years of support, including a $34,000 annual stipend, a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees and access to opportunities for professional development available.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.

Since 1952, NSF has funded more than 60,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences.

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This story was originally published by the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences: https://cmns.umd.edu/news-events/features/4755

Media Relations Contact: Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Buonanno Receives Galileo Galilei Medal

Alessandra Buonanno has been awarded the Galileo Galilei Medal by the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN). Buonanno was cited with Thibault Damour of the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in Paris and Frans Pretorius of Princeton University “for the fundamental understanding of sources of gravitational radiation by complementary analytic and numerical techniques, enabling predictions that have been confirmed by gravitational wave observations and are now key tools in this new branch of astronomy”.  

Stefania De Curtis, director of the Galileo Galilei Institute, wrote that "Professors Buonanno and Damour, and professor Pretorius proposed two complementary approaches, analytical and numerical, to describe the behavior of two black holes spiraling around each other until they collide. Their description was used for the analysis of experimental data that, in 2015, led the LIGO and VIRGO scientific collaborations to the observation of the first gravitational waves emitted by the collision of two black holes". 2021 Galileo Galilei medal2021 Galileo Galilei medal

Buonanno is the director of the Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity Department at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam and a Research Professor at the University of Maryland. She joined the UMD Physics in 2005, and received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship and the Richard A. Ferrell Distinguished Faculty Fellowship. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the International Society of General Relativity and Gravitation. In 2018, she received the Leibniz Prize, Germany's prestigious research award. 

In discussing the work that led to the Galilei Medal, Buonanno explained that "To identify the source that generated the gravitational waves we observe on Earth, we need hundred thousand of waveform models. To achieve this goal about 20 years ago we introduced a novel approach to solve analytically the two-body problem in general relativity. This approach paved the way to develop the highly precise waveform models that today are routinely used by LIGO and VIRGO to detect binary systems composed of black holes and neutron stars and infer unique information about astrophysics, cosmology and gravity”. She offers futher discussion in this video.  

Buonanno and others detailed UMD's contributions to gravitational studies in a 2016 forum, A Celebration of Gravitational Waves

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This story was adapted from the INFN website; for further information on the award, see https://home.infn.it/en/media-outreach/press-releases/4303-the-2021-galileo-galilei-medal-goes-to-alessandra-buonanno-thibault-damour-and-frans-pretorius

CU²MiP: Online and Expanded

In January 2021, the University of Maryland’s Department of Physics and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) hosted the third Conference for Undergraduate Underrepresented Minorities in Physics (CU²MiP). The conference launched in 2016 to address the historically low representation of minorities in the physics community.

This year, UMD President Darryll J. Pines gave a welcoming and encouraging address. UMD College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Dean Amitabh Varshney, NIST director Walter Copan. Physics Chair Steve Rolston, Rowan University’s Tabbatha Dobbins and Howard University Thomas A. Searles were among many speakers, workshop leaders and panelists.

Though COVID-19 required an online gathering this year, organizers adapted and expanded the program in significant ways, offering a research panel on quantum science, helpful videos and an entire slate for high school students.

“The quantum panel and quantum speakers for both undergrad and high school were very well received,” said Donna Hammer, director of education for the Department of Physics. Among the speakers at the quantum panel was alumna Ana Maria Rey (Ph.D. ’04), recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant.

CU²MiP videos included several lab tours, as well as interviews with UMD students explaining their choice and enjoyment of physics.CU2MiP Collage

Other CU2MiP highlights included a fireside chat where College Park Professor Sylvester James Gates Jr. was interviewed by his daughter, Delilah Gates (B.S. ’15), who is now a physics Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. The elder Gates mentioned events in his life that helped him succeed as a physicist and contribute to society. He also addressed “imposter syndrome,” which is a sense of not belonging or being good enough, and discussed ways that students might overcome it.

Jorge Ramirez Ortiz and Daniel Serrano of UMD gave a presentation on Rostros Físicos, a new multimedia celebration of the successes of Latinx/Latin American physicists across all stages of the scientific career path.

Fostering collegiality has always been a primary CU²MiP goal, and this year’s virtual gathering continued this emphasis.

“Adding mentoring chats throughout the conference fostered meaningful networking beyond the breakout rooms associated with the panels and workshops,” Hammer said. “Drop-in mentoring provided shared stories, guidance and collaboration in real time.”

Undergraduates responded positively.

“It was great to meet people and I found all of the speakers inspiring and engaging!” wrote one participant. Another expressed gratitude for the conference, noting, “I spoke with a lot of supportive people on the prospects of research.” 

The high school conference featured a plenary talk by Professor Willie Rockward, the physics department chair at Morgan State University, on “Your Pathway in Physics using Passion, Purpose, and Problem-solving.” High school student Anisha Musti discussed founding Q-munity, a group of high school students working together in quantum computing. College Park Professor and Nobel Laureate Bill Phillips, along with NIST’s Angie Hight Walker, held a Quantum Science Showcase. 

Erin Lukomska-Schlauch, chair of the science department at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Prince George’s County, helped to organize the conference, and found the experience memorable.

"As an educator, I will be taking a lot of what I learned back to my students, especially from the diversity workshops,” she said. "All the sessions that I attended were all really engaging, well planned and well executed."

Cindy Hollies, a teacher who has led many UMD physics summer programs, wrote, “I logged out of the conference on Sunday evening feeling proud and impressed with the young people leading the future of physics and amazed at the inspiring opportunities this conference presented for high school students. May there be many more such conferences.”  

Hammer observed that high school students learned about the many career opportunities opened by degrees in physics. As one student wrote, “…although I have taken a physics class, I didn't know much about its applications. I am very excited to take more related classes in college.”

Rolston, the department chair, was pleased with the undergraduate program and the extended efforts for high school students.

“We are grateful to everyone who contributed to CU²MiP,” he said. “Studying physics is a great path, not only to research and teaching careers, but to an extremely wide range of interesting professions. And the discipline itself helps develop a discerning way of seeing the world.”

"CU²MiP is a catalyst for change,” summarized Hammer. “The outcomes of each conference inspire me to keep moving forward and to know, not just believe, that real, positive change is possible and happening right now. As one student said to me, ‘This conference showed me that with each day I study physics, I'm part of the solution.’”