Paolo Privitera
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Professor, Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics; Enrico Fermi Institute; and the College

Education: Laurea 1989 (Physics) Bologna, Italy; PhD 1993 (Physics) Karlsruhe, Germany

Phone: 773-702-2983
Location: ERC 473

Affiliations: Enrico Fermi Institute; Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

Experimental physics, ultra-high energy cosmic rays, Dark Matter detection
Publications: ADS | arXiv | inSPIRE

Research Fields:
The origin of Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECRs, >1019 eV) is a fascinating long-lasting mystery of particle astrophysics. What physical mechanism can produce or accelerate particles to energies 10 billion times higher than the man-made LHC beam? Whether the answer is to be found in the most extreme objects of the universe (e.g. Active Galactic Nuclei powered by blackholes) or in exotic new fundamental particle physics (e.g. cosmological strings), our view of the energy frontier in particle astrophysics will be challenged. To detect these rare particles, the Pierre Auger Observatory covers 3000 km2 in the province of Mendoza, Argentina - the largest cosmic ray detector ever built. Privitera has given major contributions to the design, construction and data analysis of the Fluorescence Detector, which measures the fluorescence light from the nitrogen molecules excited by the cosmic ray shower particles along their path in the atmosphere. Privitera also led the AIRFLY experiment to the most accurate measurement of the nitrogen fluorescence yield and its pressure, temperature and humidity dependence. Currently, Privitera’s group is pushing next generation UHECRs detectors, by exploring the potential of microwave emission from the cosmic ray shower, and developing a compact Fluorescence Detector. In addition, the group is preparing for a major upgrade of the Auger Observatory, which will include a giant array of scintillator detectors.

The nature of Dark Matter - five times more common in the universe than ordinary matter according to astrophysical and cosmological evidence – is still eluding our understanding. A compelling hypothesis invokes yet unknown Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) as a major component of Dark Matter. Privitera is searching for WIMPs with the DAMIC (Dark Matter In CCDs) experiment at the SNOLAB underground laboratory in Sudbury, Canada. DAMIC employs mm-thick CCDs of unprecedented low energy threshold (few tens of eV) to detect nuclear recoils from low mass WIMPs. Privitera’s group plays a major role in the experiment, now undergoing installation of a 100 g detector which will probe a large, so far unconstrained range of WIMP masses and interaction cross- sections. Privitera is also performing measurements of the nuclear recoil ionization efficiency in silicon down to sub-keV energy, essential for a proper interpretation of WIMP limits.

As an experimental particle physicist, Privitera worked for the DELPHI experiment at the LEP e+ e- collider (CERN, Geneva), with main contributions in the measurement of the properties of the Z and W bosons, in the physics of the τ lepton and of the b quark.

Scientific Projects

Graduate Students
Past Graduate Students: Nicholas Hollon (2013, Astronomy and Astrophysics)

Teaching Courses
  • [ASTR 49900] Graduate Research Seminar: 2017 - 2018 (Winter)

Past courses:
  • [ASTR 28200] Current Topics in Astrophysics: 2009 - 2010 (Spring)
  • [ASTR 34000] Statistical Methods in Astronomy and Astrophysics: 2015 - 2016 (Autumn)
  • [ASTR 43100] Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays: 2014 - 2015 (Autumn); 2008 - 2009 (Autumn)
  • [ASTR 49900] Graduate Research Seminar: 2013 - 2014 (Autumn)

Department Committees
Past Department Committees:
  • Appointments: 2016 - 2017
  • Brinson Lectureship: 2015 - 2016 (Chair)
  • Search Committee: 2015 - 2016
  • Candidacy: 2014 - 2015 (Chair)
  • Adler: 2014 - 2015 | 2013 - 2014
  • Graduate Committee: 2016 - 2017 (Chair) | 2013 - 2014
  • Space and Building: 2013 - 2014