UC Berkeley-led international astrophysics research collaboration awarded $10.9M

Photo of ultra-dense neutron stars
University of Warwick/Mark Garlick/Creative Commons
Using funding provided by the National Science Foundation and the UC system, the Network in Neutrinos, Nuclear Astrophysics and Symmetries will expand its operations and programs. (Photo by University of Warwick/Mark Garlick under CC BY 4.0)

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The Network in Neutrinos, Nuclear Astrophysics and Symmetries, or N3AS, an international research collaboration directed by UC Berkeley physics professor Wick Haxton, was awarded $10.9 million over five years by the National Science Foundation, or NSF.

N3AS involves 13 institutions, including universities across the United States, and focuses on studying the most cataclysmic events in the universe, such as supernovas and the emergence of neutron stars. Haxton, who is also the principal investigator of N3AS, spearheaded the project three years ago

“We’re really excited about this. We’ve been very lucky,” Haxton said. “We’re looking forward to a lot of new discoveries over the next decade that we can help interpret.”

Most of the funding from NSF will financially support young fellows and postdoctoral researchers, according to Haxton. Funds will also go toward outreach, education, travel and a summer program for graduate students who are interested in astrophysics. He added that N3AS is working to involve junior and senior undergraduate students.

In addition to the grant from NSF, the UC system is now funding the renovation of a portion of the campus’s physics building into a new collaboration center for the project. The renovation is estimated to be completed by next summer, according to Haxton.

Daniel Kasen, UC Berkeley associate professor of physics and a researcher at the center, described part of N3AS’s research as reliant on physics to create 3D models of different extreme environments in space, such as black holes and exploding stars. These rely on supercomputers, which can be accessed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“We think we know equations, how gravity works and, you know, how electromagnetism works and so on. But there’s certain things that we don’t know, because in nuclear physics, things about how neutrinos work and so on,” Kasen said. “As people in the center learn more about how all those things work, they will take what they’ve learned and put it into the simulations so we see how it plays out.”

The center on campus will act as a hub for researchers from around the world to meet and collaborate on what Haxton called “multiphysics” problems, which require a wide range of expertise.

Haxton already has plans to bring in researchers from France, as well as researchers from Japan’s Riken research institution, to the center.

“(N3AS) is kind of a research group without walls in the sense that it’s spread over the country,” Haxton said. “But periodically throughout the year, we’ll get together on a regular basis to discuss the progress on the various pieces of the research project that we have.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.