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A First for City Tech: NSF Awards Grants to Three Physicists; College Establishes Center for Theoretical Physics

In a triple play unprecedented at City Tech, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded individual research grants to three professors in the Physics Department.

Assistant Professor Andrea Ferroglia received his first NSF grant, while Professor Justin Vazquez-Poritz received additional funding for his current project (“Constraining Gravity Dual Models of Strongly Coupled Plasmas”) and Professor Giovanni Ossola received a second NSF grant for his research “Automated Computation of One-loop Scattering Amplitudes.”

Professor Ferroglia, who grew up in Turin, Italy, was awarded $75,000 over three years for “Top-Quark Pair Production Beyond NLO (Next-to-Leading Order).” The goal of his research is to precisely calculate the probability of producing subatomic particles, called top quarks, by colliding two protons moving at high speed and by studying the properties of the particles produced in the collision.

The only particle accelerator where top quarks are currently produced is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. (Until September 2011, top quarks were also produced at the Tevatron, a particle accelerator located at Fermilab, near Chicago.)

The three physicists are members of the College’s new Center for Theoretical Physics (CTP), and have the possibility to collaborate in the future. “Our work is complementary,” Ferroglia explains. “Collaboration is essential, especially because our colleagues are in China, Europe and America. We have invited colleagues from around the globe to give seminars at City Tech.”

According to City Tech Physics Department Chairperson Roman Kezerashvili, CTP is putting the College’s physics program on the map. “We have become one of the leading colleges in The City University of New York in theoretical physics,” he says. “Five of our professors are also on the doctoral faculty at The CUNY Graduate Center. It’s no small feat that three of our faculty members currently have four NSF grants among them, all under the CTP umbrella.”

Ultimately, Ferroglia’s research is related to the search for the Higgs Boson Particle, the existence of which has been predicted but never observed; that search is one of the main goals of the LHC physics program. In practical terms, according to Ferroglia, particle physics gives a deeper understanding of how the universe works and can lead to technical applications. In fact, the World Wide Web was created under the aegis of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which developed the LHC.

Ferroglia, who teaches physics courses at City Tech, will involve students from the Emerging Scholars Program in his research, which is also supported by CTP.

“The goal is to help the students understand basic ideas in elementary particle physics and to familiarize them with the necessary computer tools,” he explains. “We are providing the opportunity to partake in theoretical calculations beyond the scope of their City Tech education. I hope to encourage students to pursue advanced physics.”

Ferroglia, who lives in Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, first came to the U.S. in 1998, earned his MS and PhD in theoretical particle physics at New York University, and later worked for several years at universities in Germany and Switzerland before joining City Tech in July 2010.

He first discovered particle physics as an undergraduate at the University of Turin, his native city. “As a teenager I was interested in astrophysics and cosmology,” he says, “but I was attracted to this area of physics because it analyzes fundamental properties of nature. Problems can be approached mathematically, starting from relatively simple principles. Also, I had the good fortune to work with inspiring mentors.” Four years ago he began focusing on top quarks physics, applying technical skills from his work on other processes in high-energy physics.

An invited speaker at conferences and workshops worldwide, he has given presentations at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and Brookhaven National Laboratory; the Universities of Würzburg, Bern, Mainz, Turin, Freiburg, Hamburg and RWTH Aachen; the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Padua, Italy; the Laboratory of Subatomic Physics and Cosmology in Grenoble, France; the Institute for Particle Physics in Valencia, Spain; Switzerland’s Paul Scherrer Institut in Villigen; and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Despite his specialized scientific field, Ferroglia still must rely on popular technology to get his work done. “Unlike experimentalists, theorists can work virtually everywhere,” he says. “However, an uninterrupted internet connection is still crucial!”


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