The Office of the Vice President for Research recognizes Camillo Mariani, an assistant professor of physics in the College of Science, for working to understand curious particles called neutrinos and their place in the universe.
The recipient of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, Mariani studies neutrino interactions in matter.
Neutrinos have mass, but they do not carry an electric charge and are not affected by electromagnetic forces that act on electrons and protons. They pass through forms of matter from cobwebs to steel plates completely unimpeded. Or, as poet John Updike put it, “The earth is just a silly ball to them, through which they simply pass, like dustmaids down a drafty hall or photons through a sheet of glass …”
Mariani is seeking a more detailed understanding, both experimentally and theoretically, of neutrino interactions in nuclear matter.
And he wants to share his understanding. Part of his CAREER award is an educational component to create a QuarkNet center at Virginia Tech to attract high school teachers and students, with an initial emphasis on neutrino physics.
A member of the Center for Neutrino Physics at Virginia Tech, one of the largest and most visible neutrino research groups in the world, Mariani and a colleague successfully submitted a proposal to the Jefferson Laboratory to use its continuous electron beam.
The electron beam is a widely sought-after commodity in the world of neutrino physics and costs about $1 million per week to operate. The proposed experiment is expected to begin in 2016 and involves 31 scientists from around the world, will study electron-scattering on argon.
As part of the preparations for the experiment, the team will work with Jefferson Laboratory to build a target containing argon gas that will be bombarded with electrons produced by laboratory’s accelerator. The product of the electron interactions on argon will be studied using the spectrometers. The results will increase understanding and help the high energy physics community to model nuclear effects.
Mariani received his doctoral and master’s degrees in experimental high energy physics from the University of Rome.