Professor Christine Aidala has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to Italy for the academic year 2019-2020. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients are selected from diverse fields on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Professor Aidala will work with theoretical physicists at the University of Pavia in Italy to develop a set of observables, or measurable parameters, for the Large Hadron Collider Beauty (LHCb) experiment at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN). LHCb is an international collaboration with the primary goal of understanding matter-antimatter asymmetry. The universe is made up entirely of matter, like quarks (the components of protons and neutrons) and electrons. Each particle has its own antiparticle, which behaves similarly but has opposite properties; for example, the electron’s antiparticle is a positron, and while the electron has a negative charge, the positron has a positive charge. Because matter and antimatter behave similarly, a current area of study in physics tries to answer why the universe is made up of matter rather than antimatter, and this imbalance is called matter-antimatter asymmetry. At LHCb, the asymmetry is studied by searching for violations of certain fundamental symmetries of the laws of physics.
However, because the LHCb experiment employs proton-proton collisions and has highly sensitive detection capabilities, it can also be used to study the strong nuclear force. The strong nuclear force is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, and it describes how quarks and gluons are held together to form protons and neutrons. The current theory of the strong nuclear force is quantum chromodynamics (QCD). One property of fundamental particles that can be studied at LHCb is spin polarization. Spin is intrinsic to any fundamental particle, and it can be thought of in analogy to the rotation of a planet around its axis. Spin polarization relates to how the spins of many particles are aligned with each other, like many planets rotating around parallel axes. Professor Aidala and her colleagues at the University of Pavia will work to develop experimental tests that are sensitive to spin polarization in the quarks, gluons, and other particles produced in proton-proton interactions at the LHC. The collaboration between Professor Aidala, who is an experimentalist, and her theorist colleagues, will allow for full exploration of the currently untapped potential of LHCb to advance studies of spin polarization in QCD.
Professor Aidala chose to apply to Italy for her Fulbright award because Italy leads research on spin-dependent studies of quarks and gluons. She is also fluent in Italian.