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College of Science and Mathematics

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NSF Grant Will Send Cal Poly Students to International Research Collaboration

November 26, 2014

Cal Poly Physics Professor Tom Gutierrez has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for undergraduate research. The $186,000 grant allows several students to participate in the international research collaboration called the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE) at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.

The CUORE experiment is designed to search for a certain type of nuclear decay — particles breaking off from an atom's nucleus — that would shed light on many of the basic laws of physics, including why the universe is made mostly of matter instead of antimatter.

Gutierrez's students have been helping to build and maintain the experiment for seven years. Last summer, two students had the opportunity to be in Italy when the COURE collaboration set a record for the known universe: scientists cooled a block of copper to -273.144 °C, the coldest temperature of a large object literally anywhere.

The students will join an international team of more than 100 physicists from institutions in China, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and the U.S. that designs and maintains the experiment.

"The students get to interface with an international group of scientists and work with some of the top people in the field," said Gutierrez. "They're involved with cutting-edge science, and they also get to see the nitty-gritty details."

This is the third NSF grant Gutierrez has received for this work. A total of 13 students have traveled to Italy, usually for five to six weeks, and two have helped support the experiment by doing work at UC Berkeley. The current grant will fund two students' travel and living expenses each summer for the next three years.

Undergraduate research is part of Cal Poly's Learn by Doing approach, which prepares students for this kind of work. "People were asking for our students by name because they were able to bring the skills they developed at Cal Poly to a real research environment," said Gutierrez.

Contact: Tom Gutierrez



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