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Caltech Physics Professor Maria Spiropulu to Co-Chair National Academies’ Elementary Particle Physics Committee

Published on Thursday, July 28, 2022 | 3:32 pm
Maria Spiropulu courtesy of Caltech

The National Academies are launching a new study to set a vision for the field of particle physics in the next decade and beyond. Called Elementary Particle Physics: Progress and Promise, or EPP-2024, the study “aims to help federal agencies, policymakers, and academic leadership understand the future prospects for and societal benefits of particle physics research and make informed decisions about funding, workforce, and research directions,” according to the National Academies website. The study is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Maria Spiropulu, the Shang-Yi Ch’en Professor of Physics at Caltech, will serve as a co-chair of the study committee, along with Michael S. Turner (BS ’71), senior strategic advisor at The Kavli Foundation and Rauner Distinguished Service Professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

“Our field has succeeded in probing and discovering the workings of the universe at extreme scales in the past seven decades,” Spiropulu says. “Theory, instrumentation, and phenomenology have each undergone profound evolution. The current rate of progress is such that field-wide advancements emerge and are absorbed very rapidly; the result is a research program of unprecedented scale and complexity.”

The goal of the study, Spiropulu says, is to “envision an inspiring roadmap for the evolution of the field globally by synthesizing the ingenuity, ambition, dare, and wisdom of the community while paying close attention to technology advancements and intersections with other areas of physics.”

Spiropulu, an experimental high-energy particle physics researcher for 30 years, received her PhD in physics from Harvard in 2001 and was an Enrico Fermi Fellow at the University of Chicago before moving to CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in 2004 as a research physicist. She worked at Fermilab’s Tevatron collider experiments and at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), with leading roles on detector, near-real time data selection, and in the searches for supersymmetry, dark matter, and other new physics. Her group at Caltech played a key role in the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 and led the research, development, and design of an ambitious fast-timing detector system for the High Luminosity Era LHC-CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) upgrade.

In 2015, she initiated an effort to explore and apply machine learning and artificial intelligence tools toward accelerating discovery in particle physics and other domain sciences. Since 2013, she has forged collaborations with quantum science and technology researchers, targeting the embedding of science problems in current and future quantum computing, networking, and communication testbeds. Spiropulu served as the chair of the Fermilab Physics Advisory Committee, chair of the Caltech Faculty Board, as a member of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel to the DOE and the NSF. She was the chair of the Forum of International Physics of the American Physical Society (APS) and served on the Advisory Panel of the High Energy Physics Forum for Computational Excellence, the APS Physics Policy Committee, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. She is the founder of the Physics of the Universe Summit (POTUS), which explores challenges in emerging and cross-cutting areas of science and technology. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the APS, and is member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the American Vacuum Society. She is currently participating in the Defense Science Strategy Group program of the Institute for Defense Analysis.

The committee’s first public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, July 26 and 27, at the Grand Hyatt Seattle and is being livestreamed. The meeting features speakers from DOE, NSF, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and includes scientists who will discuss achieved progress and the long-term planning and vision for particle physics. The meeting follows a particle physics community planning workshop, taking place in Seattle, known as Snowmass.

“Stepping back and looking at the status of the field and plotting out long-term opportunities and directions presents a rare and important opportunity to help guide the future of the field,” says Nobel Laureate Barry Barish, Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Caltech, member of the EPP-2024 committee and an expert in the field of experimental particle physics.

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