I work in experimental particle astrophysics. I have been a member of the Pierre Auger Collaboration for over a decade now, working on the detection of ultra high energy cosmic rays. I also joined the HAWC Collaboration in 2009 to build a large gamma ray detector in Mexico. If you are interested in these fantastic subjects read on!
We study ultra-high-energy cosmic rays -the most energetic and rare of particles in the universe. When these particles strike the Earth’s atmosphere, they produce extensive showers made of billions of secondary particles.
While much progress has been made in nearly a century of research in understanding cosmic rays with low-to-moderate energies, rays with extremely high energies remain mysterious and detecting them is challenging because they are extremely rare.
The especially interesting cosmic rays, with energies over a hundred million times larger than those produced in the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, arrive on Earth at a rate of one per square kilometer per century. Something out there -outside of our own Galaxy- is hurling these incredibly energetic particles around the universe.
Do these particles come from some unknown super-powerful cosmic explosion? Or from a huge black hole sucking stars to their violent deaths? Or maybe from colliding galaxies? We don’t know the answers yet, but we do know that solving this mystery will take us one step forward in understanding our universe.
Learn more about our studies of ultra-high energy cosmic rays using data from the Pierre Auger Observatory here.
TeV gamma rays are markers of the most extreme environments in the known universe: supernova explosions, active galactic nuclei, and gamma-ray bursts. Gamma rays are thought to be correlated with the acceleration sites of charged cosmic rays, whose origins have been a mystery for nearly 100 years.
Cosmic rays are charged particles. We believe they are accelerated in tremendous astrophysical explosions such as supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, and the turbulent regions of space near supermassive black holes. By studying cosmic rays, we hope to gain a better understanding of these violent (and ubiquitous) objects.
High-energy gamma-ray observations are an essential tool in the study of the origins of cosmic rays, because gamma rays are created when cosmic rays interact with material near their acceleration sites. Because they are electrically neutral, the gamma rays produced in such interactions are not perturbed by the magnetic fields which fill our own galaxy and intergalactic space. Therefore, we can use them to perform gamma-ray astronomy.
By observing the spatial distribution and intensity of gamma rays across the sky, we can attempt to identify the locations of cosmic ray accelerators. In addition, the time variability and energy spectra of the gamma-ray emission can be used to study the environment of the accelerators and the mechanisms of charged-particle acceleration. The highest-energy gamma rays (above 1 TeV) and the shortest timescales of variability provide important constraints on the mechanisms at work in acceleration sites.
Learn more about our studies of very-high energy gamma-rays using data from the High Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory here.
Before joining Penn State in 2013, I was an associate professor of physics at Colorado State University. My honors include Best Teacher Awards from the Colorado State University’s Alumni Association and the Student Alumni Connection, the Outstanding Mentor Award presented by the Students as Leaders in Science at the Colorado State University, and the Students Choice Award sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Utah. I earned my doctoral degree in Particle Physics and master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Instituto Balseiro in Argentina in 2001 and 1996, respectively.