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

Education: Laurea 1989 (Physics) Bologna, Italy; Ph.D. 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, FAST, which is currently taking data at the Telescope Array.

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 particles as a major component of Dark Matter. Privitera is scrutinizing this hypothesis with the DAMIC (Dark Matter In CCDs) experiment which employs mm-thick Charge Coupled Devices of unprecedented low energy threshold (few eV) to detect nuclear and electron recoils from low-mass Dark Matter particles. Privitera's group plays a major role in the experiment, now taking data at the SNOLAB underground laboratory in Sudbury, Canada, and also performs measurements of the nuclear recoil ionization efficiency in silicon down to sub-keV energy, essential for a proper interpretation of Dark Matter limits. Privitera is the PI of DAMIC-M, a kg-size detector based on the CCD technology to be installed at the Laboratoire Souterrain de Modane in France, protected from cosmic rays by the rock overburden of the Alps. DAMIC-M will take a leap forward of several orders of magnitude in the exploration of the dark matter particle hypothesis, in particular of candidates pertaining to the so-called “hidden sector”.

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.

For more details on Privitera's research, visit Pierre Auger Observatory, FAST, DAMIC-M

Member of Research Groups:

Scientific Projects

Graduate Students
  • John Farmer (Physics)
  • Ariel Matalon (Physics)
  • Karthik Ramanathan (Physics)
  • Ryan Thomas (Physics)

Past Graduate Students: Jing Zhou (2015, Physics); Nicholas Hollon (2013, Astronomy and Astrophysics); Christopher Williams (2013, Physics); Florin Ionita (2011, Physics)

Teaching Courses
  • [ASTR 34000] Statistical Methods in Astronomy and Astrophysics: 2018 - 2019 (Autumn)

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: 2017 - 2018 (Winter); 2013 - 2014 (Autumn)

Department Committees

Past Department Committees:
  • Strategic Planning: 2017 - 2018
  • Appointments and Promotions: 2017 - 2018 | 2016 - 2017
  • Brinson Lectureship: 2015 - 2016 (Chair)
  • Search Committee: 2015 - 2016
  • Candidacy: 2014 - 2015 (Chair)
  • Adler Visiting Committee: 2014 - 2015 | 2013 - 2014
  • Graduate Committee: 2016 - 2017 (Chair) | 2013 - 2014
  • Space and Building: 2013 - 2014