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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Intriguing New Result Announced by the LHCb Experiment at CERN

The Standard Model of particle physics explains the most fundamental forces and particles in the universe with unprecedented precision. However, a recent announcement from theThe decay of a B0 meson into a K*0 and an electron–positron pair in the LHCb detector, which is used for a sensitive test of lepton universality in the Standard Model. Credit: CERNThe decay of a B0 meson into a K*0 and an electron–positron pair in the LHCb detector, which is used for a sensitive test of lepton universality in the Standard Model. Credit: CERN Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment at CERN raises the tantalizing prospect of new physics beyond the Standard Model picture.

Scientists analyzed all the data collected by the LHCb detector over the last decade —trillions of collisions recorded during the experiment’s first two runs. This cumulative study showed that beauty quarks are not decaying into equal numbers of muons and electrons when accompanied by a kaon, as the Standard Model would predict; electrons occur at a 15% higher frequency. If confirmed, this raises the captivating possibility that a particle or force not previously known could be involved and affecting the decays and leading to lepton universality violation. The significance of the effect is currently around three standard deviations, that is, less than 0.15% chance that it is simply a fluctuation.

Assistant Professor Manuel Franco Sevilla will present the new LHCb result in a plenary talk at the 2021 April APS meeting.

This is not the first time that LHCb data has shown such a discrepancy; in addition to earlier anomalies in similar beauty decays, a 2015 finding also hinted at a violation of lepton universality in decays involving muons and tauons, a study in which the UMD LHCb team played a leading role.  

Scientists will proceed with caution before deciding that the newly announced finding contradicts the Standard Model, which has proven resilient for five decades. Even more precise data is expected from LHCb’s Run 3, which will begin after a major detector upgrade is completed in 2022. 

To learn more, see the CERN press release:

In the Guardian:

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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