Experimental Particle Physics at The University of Alabama consists of seven faculty working on:
- Collider physics research with the CERN CMS experiment and MoEDAL experiment
- Direct dark matter search with the LZ experiment, and
- Multiple groups focused on neutrino projects with KamLAND, MiniBooNe, EXO-200, nEXO, Double Chooz, and ν – SNS. These groups are currently members of several different international collaborations dedicated to studying neutrinos.
- Other physics being looked into by these research groups include: supernovae, neutron decay, neutrino magnetic moments, geo-neutrinos, negative muon capture, magnetic monopoles, and more.
Our faculty and their current research interests are:
Dr. Sergei Gleyzer works on new physics phenomena at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the CERN particle physics laboratory, located in Switzerland. He has been an integral part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012 and is now involved in the measurement of the properties of this new particle to pin down effects of any new physics beyond the Standard Model. Dr. Gleyzer’s research explores novel approaches to physics analysis, particle and event identification, detector reconstruction, simulation and particle physics triggering systems. Dr. Gleyzer works on the development of artificial intelligence techniques for new physics, including searches for rare decays of the Higgs boson and dark matter using the data collected by the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment. In particular, his group has focused on using machine learning techniques to search for the extremely rare decays of the Higgs boson decaying into particles such as photons, electrons, and taus. In another line of research, his group is attempting to identify the nature of dark matter among the many collisions produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Dr. Gleyzer also contributes to the development of the High-Granularity Calorimeter for CMS Endcap and the High Luminosity LHC project. Dr. Gleyzer is founder of the Inter-experimental LHC Machine Learning (IML) Working group, founding convener of the CMS Experiment’s Machine Learning Forum and the Machine Learning for Science (ML4SCI) Foundation.
Dr. Andreas Piepke is currently working on three major projects, KamLAND, LZ and EXO. The work for KamLAND consists of developing techniques to remove 85Kr, 210Pb, 210Po and 222Rn from the liquid scintillator and balloon surface. The main focus of work on KamLAND is to better understand the current low-background signal in KamLAND so a 7Be signal can be seen after a purification of the 1000 tons of liquid scintillator. Dr. Piepke’s group also has the capabilities of performing ultra sensitive measurements of radio-isotopes by using neutron activation analysis. This is a method in which neutrons are used to excite the material’s isotopes, which then subsequently decay, and the parent nuclei are detected in a low background germanium detector. By knowing the flux of neutrons from the reactor a measurement of radio-isotopic abundance is calculated. This capability was used to screen materials for use in KamLAND and EXO. Other detection capabilities consist of a second germanium detector for counting high activity samples, an alpha detector and a 212Bi – 212Po coincidence setup. The main work being performed for EXO is in screening materials for the development of the detector and in running Monte Carl simulations. The Monte Carlo is of specific detector designs and consists of determining what background would be seen given the measured material isotopic abundance and external (muon, rock, etc) backgrounds.
Dr. Igor Ostrovskiy‘s two primary research foci are search for magnetic monopoles and R&D for the next-generation liquified noble gas experiments searching for neutrinoless double beta decay and dark matter. For the up-to-date information about the Dr. Ostrovskiy’s research and opportunities to participate, please visit the group’s website.
Dr. Paolo Rumerio‘s research focuses on experimental searches for new physics phenomena at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the CERN particle physics laboratory, located in Switzerland. He collaborates on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, which is used to study the highest-energy proton-proton collisions ever generated in a laboratory. These collisions have revealed the existence of the Higgs boson, and continue to be used to study the properties of this particle and to search for physics Beyond the Standard Model (BSM). Besides performing searches for BSM physics, he worked as Deputy Project Manager and Project Manager (2014-2018) of the CMS hadron calorimeter (HCAL), overseeing the data taking and an extensive HCAL Phase-I upgrade program. Since 2018, he has been serving as CMS Deputy Upgrade Coordinator to prepare the entire experiment for a major Phase-II upgrade to meet the challenging data taking conditions of the High-Luminosity LHC, which is scheduled to start operations in 2029.
Dr. Ion Stancu collaborates on the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) experiment at Los Alamos and the Booster Neutrino Experiment (BooNE) at Fermilab. Both projects are direct searches for neutrino flavor oscillations, which in turn probe indirectly the hypothesis of a non-vanishing neutrino mass. The BooNE experiment, currently under construction, is designed to confirm (or dismiss) the positive LSND signals and to measure the neutrino mixing parameters with high accuracy. In parallel to his active involvement in these experimental projects, Dr. Stancu is also interested in neutrino oscillations phenomenology and the LZ dark matter detection experiment.
Dr. Emanuele Usai does research in machine learning-driven analysis of particle collider data, and detector hardware research and development at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the CERN particle physics laboratory, located in Switzerland. Dr. Usai‘s team works on searches for new physics beyond the Standard Model with top quarks in the final state, development of machine learning techniques for data reconstruction and data quality monitoring, and hardware upgrade of the CMS detector.
Dr. Juijen (Ryan) Wang is working on developing detector techniques for direct dark matter detection. He is currently involved in LZ direct dark matter detection using a dual-phase liquid xenon Time Projection Chamber (TPC) and a liquid scintillator-based outer detector. He is also involved in the research and development efforts on Water-based Liquid Scintillator(WbLS) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). His group is constructing prototype detectors at BNL, with the innovative material anticipated for utilization in the future dark matter and neutrino experiments.
In addition to the faculty mentioned above, the following astro-particle faculty contribute to the particle physics group:
Dr. Dawn Williams is involved in various aspects of calibration of large volume neutrino telescopes. She is a member of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, IceCube-Gen2, and the Radio Neutrino Observatory — Greenland (RNO-G) collaborations. Dr. Williams is the co-convenor of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory calibration working group, the Level 2 Lead for Calibration and Characterization for the IceCube Upgrade project, and the Level 2 Lead for Detector Calibration and Commissioning for IceCube-Gen2.
Dr. Marcos Santander is interested in multimessenger astrophysics, combining observations of high-energy neutrinos and gravitational waves with those collected by gamma-ray and X-ray telescopes to study some of the most powerful objects in the Universe, in particular active galactic nuclei. His group is involved in the IceCube neutrino telescope and the VERITAS gamma-ray telescope array, as well as in the development of two next-generation, ground-based gamma-ray observatories: CTA and SWGO. The group also leads observational programs using space-based instruments such as the Fermi gamma-ray space telescope, and the Swift, NICER and NuSTAR X-ray telescopes.
More information on the astro-particle faculty can be found here.
Dr. Jerry Busenitz focuses on the LZ experiment. His group also played a significant role in analyzing the calibration data for the KamLAND detector and the design and certification of its calibration sources. Dr. Busenitz was also involved in the development of Double Chooz experiment. This work consisted of performing low-background counting of material samples and Monte Carlo simulation of detector designs.
Current and Former Experiments
Collider Physics Groups
Research activities in the Collider Physics group at The University of Alabama are focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment and the Monopole and Exotics Detector at the LHC (MoEDAL) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in CERN, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.
The UA LHC-CMS group is led by Dr. Paolo Rumerio, Dr. Sergei Gleyzer, and Dr. Emanuele Usai. The CMS Collaboration is an international collaboration of over 2000 scientists who operate the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN. The LHC is colliding protons at the highest energies ever achieved in the laboratory. These collisions have already discovered the long-elusive Higgs boson, and it is hoped that they may also reveal even more exotic new physics, such as supersymmetry or extra dimensions of space.
The UA LHC-MoEDAL group is led by Dr. Igor Ostrovskiy. It searches directly for the magnetic monopole – a hypothetical particle with either a “north” or a “south” magnetic charge instead of both. It also searches for other exotic particles that would indicate new physics beyond the Standard Model, such as dyons, Q-balls, black-hole remnants, multiply charged particles and massive singly charged particles.
Dark Matter Detection Groups
LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) is a flagship physics experiment searching for the dark matter particles. The LZ detector employs a 7-tonne liquid xenon target to search for the rare interactions of these particles with ordinary atoms in the detector medium. The experiment is located one mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Lead, South Dakota, USA). The LZ group at UA is led by Dr. Andreas Piepke and Dr. Juijen (Ryan) Wang.
DARk matter WImp search with liquid xenoN (DARWIN) is an ultimate dark matter detector that will utilize 50 tons of liquid xenon for the direct detection of particle dark matter. Thanks to its technological advantages, it will also be able to perform sensitive searches for other processes/particles, such as neutrinoless double beta decay, solar neutrinos, axions. The DARWIN group at UA is led by Dr. Igor Ostrovskiy.
EXO-200 uses enriched liquid Xenon to search for
the neutrinoless double beta decay. Existence of this decay will prove that neutrinos are their own anti-particles, which would make them the only known Majorana fermion. EXO-200 has discovered the two-neutrino mode of the double beta decay in Xe-136 and established stringent limits on the neutrinoless mode. Its last search for the neutrinoless double beta decay was published in Nature. We played important role in preparation of the experiment and made leading contributions to the data analysis. While EXO-200 will continue taking data for several more years, we are already working on the next generation experiment, nEXO.
nEXO will contain 5 tonne of enriched xenon. It will be located 2 miles underground, in the SNOLAB facility in Canada. Ask Dr. Piepke and Dr. Ostrovskiy about the double beta decay program at the UA.
KamLAND is a 1000 ton liquid scintillation detector in the Kamioka mine in Japan. KamLAND has been observing anti-neutrinos from the nuclear reactors in the Asian region and played an important role in understanding the phenomenon of neutrino flavor oscillations. By knowing the power of each of the nuclear reactors in the region, the total flux of anti-neutrinos can be deduced. From this total flux KamLAND looks for a deficit in the number of electron anti-neutrinos that it sees. The KamLAND collaboration also developed techniques to purify the liquid scintillator from radio-isotopes to make it possible to see the Be-7 solar neutrino. The purification techniques were developed extensively at Alabama, CalTech, and Tohoku University. Ask Dr. Piepke to learn more about the KamLAND experiment.
MiniBooNE is a 800 ton liquid scintillation detector at Fermilab, situated down-line from the 8 GeV proton accelerator. There it converts protons into pions by colliding the protons into a beryllium target. The pions are unstable and decay into muon and muon neutrino pairs. The muons interact well with matter and can easily be stopped by a steel absorber. The neutrinos, however, have a very small cross section which allows nearly all of them to pass unhindered through the steel and into the detector. Here MiniBooNE looks to observe the appearance of electron type neutrinos which oscillated from the muon neutrino. MiniBooNE has a unique capability of observing both muon neutrinos and muon anti-neutrinos by focusing the positive and negative pions produced in the collision with the target by a large magnetic field. By changing the magnetic field they are able to focus the negative pions, which decay into negative muons and muon anti-neutrinos, toward the detector. MiniBooNE is looking to uncover the existence of a hypothetical fourth non-interacting sterile neutrino, existence of which was suggested by the LSND measurement.
Double Chooz is a neutrino oscillation experiment designed to measure the last unknown neutrino mixing angle ϑ13. It used the site that is home to the former CHOOZ experiment in France. The measurement process involves the correlation of events from a near and far liquid scintillation detectors. This allows one to study neutrino oscillations with a much smaller systematic error, as compared to a single detector. Double Chooz published its first result in 2012, suggesting a non-zero value of the ϑ13. The UA group played the key role in this result, from the calibration, to determination of major systematic uncertainties, to the final statistical analysis. The paper received more than 1000 citations to date.
ν – SNS will be situated at Oak Ridge National Laboratories at the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) which is currently under construction. Once construction on the SNS is complete a neutrino detector will be placed here designed specifically to measure the neutrino-nucleus cross sections of importance to current neutrino physics and cosmology. The project will be complete in approximately three years after SNS is is completed and it is proposed that the first neutrino-nucleus cross section can be measured to within an accuracy of 10% within the first year of operation.
If you are a student (undergraduate or graduate) with a possible interest in experimental particle physics we would be glad to hear from you via e-mail or otherwise. Please contact one of the physicists above or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information about graduate study. Information about our graduate program is also available on our website.