NYUAD and its cutting-edge, cosmopolitan and outreach-oriented CAP3

NYUAD and its cutting-edge, cosmopolitan and outreach-oriented CAP3

By Guendalina Dainelli


ABU DHABI, 19th October, 2022 (WAM) -- It is barely four years old but has already contributed to the launch of the first satellite in orbit by the UAE and the Lunar Rover Rashid project.

The CAP3, "Centre for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physics" of the NYUAD physics department will soon welcome prestigious names, such as the Emirati scientist Ahmed Almehiri, one of the top experts in black hole physics, and Simonetta di Pippo, former director of UNOOSA (UN Office for Outer Space Affairs).

CAP3 is also opening up to new international collaborations, including with the Bocconi University of Milan. A photo from last September shows the students with the 2015 Nobel Prize winner for Physics, Prof. Arthur McDonald, during his visit to CAP3. Prof Macdonald was one of the two scientists who received the prize that year “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.”

Andrea Maccio, Director of the Centre, spoke to the Emirates News Agency (WAM) in an exclusive interview about the successes and ambitions of the team, which is part of CAP3.

What is the composition of CAP3?

The centre reflects NYUAD's cosmopolitan vocation. It is a melting pot of different cultures, nationalities and scientific histories. Currently, the centre has eight professors, 26 researchers (most of whom have PhDs), eight PhD students and several undergraduates.

How have you achieved so much in such a short time?

The centre is a very specialised body. We have already produced nearly 80 publications in the leading journals of the sector, including "Nature" and "Science ". Recently the astro-particle group also contributed substantially to launching the UAE’s first scientific satellite in orbit.

Our centre is also associated with several international collaborations. Less than two weeks ago, our researchers were part of one of the discoveries of the new JWST space satellite, which, for the first time, measured the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.

The centre is also at the forefront of new techniques, such as artificial intelligence and computer simulations. In addition, our researchers have created one of the largest databases of simulated galaxy images, which is very useful for "predicting" what new telescopes will see in the design, including the all-new JWST.

You deal with subjects that many would find difficult. How can we familiarise the public and the younger generation with these subjects?

This is an excellent question. Scientists always risk being seen as inhabitants of an ivory tower. For this reason, CAP3 has been extremely active in scientific dissemination from the outset. Our centre organises two "Astro-Camp" every year, where we invite high school students to the university for theoretical lessons, followed by nights spent in the desert with telescopes and scientific equipment. The response from them was excellent. We had to reject more than 200 questions due to time constraints, despite doubling the number of participants. Then we created space photo competitions and undertook lessons in schools. I have already been to several schools in Abu Dhabi, organising a semi-serious seminar, where I narrate the story of the universe in 60 minutes. I talk about galaxies through magic tricks and cake-making. Science must not scare people, but there must be intrigue about it since curiosity is the real engine of scientific research.