UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State faculty Stephane Coutu, professor of physics and of astronomy and astrophysics, and Miguel Mostafá, associate professor of physics and of astronomy and astrophysics, have been elected as Fellows of the American Physical Society.
The American Physical Society's Fellowship Program recognizes members who have made advances in knowledge through original research and publication, have made significant and innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology, or have made significant contributions to the teaching of physics or service and participation in the activities of the society.
Coutu’s election to the society is based on “his pioneering contributions to particle astrophysics, spanning the energy range from direct measurements to the highest energy particles found in nature.”
Coutu is an experimental physicist whose primary research interests are elementary particles and fields. His projects include high-energy cosmic rays and air showers; particle astrophysics; and the origin, propagation, and composition of high-energy cosmic particles — both matter and antimatter.
Coutu has been involved in several NASA-supported missions including the High-Energy Antimatter Telescope (HEAT) program, a series of high-altitude balloon-borne experiments flown to the very edges of the atmosphere to study antimatter in cosmic radiation. The HEAT effort yielded the world's best high-energy positron and antiproton measurements at the time, providing insight into the origin and propagation of cosmic rays. He also is involved in the Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM) program, a series of advanced balloon payloads flown in Antarctica to measure the mass composition of very-high-energy cosmic rays. This has evolved into a version of the CREAM payload to deploy to the International Space Station in 2017, the ISS-CREAM instrument. Coutu is a participant in the new High Energy Light Isotope eXperiment (HELIX) mission to fly a payload in Antarctica on a long-duration balloon to detect cosmic-ray isotopes, especially beryllium isotopes, to elucidate aspects of the galactic propagation of cosmic rays.
Coutu's non-NASA activities include participation in the Pierre Auger Observatory project. With this observatory the highest-energy particles in the universe are studied to elucidate the long-standing puzzle of their nature, origin, acceleration, and propagation across vast intergalactic distances. This is a large international undertaking with contributions from 16 countries. The U.S. effort has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
In 2002, Coutu was honored with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young scientists and engineers at the outset of their independent research careers.
Coutu earned his bachelor's degree in 1987 at McGill University in Canada. He earned his master's degree in physics in 1989 and his doctoral degree in physics in 1993 at the California Institute of Technology. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan until he joined the faculty of Penn State in the fall of 1997.
Mostafá’s election to the society is based on his “participation in the design, development, construction, and operation of the Pierre Auger Observatory and High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Observatory, for his contribution to the Auger hybrid reconstruction and derived measurements of composition, and for his leadership of the Auger analysis group dedicated to the search of the sources of the highest energy cosmic rays.”
Mostafá focuses his research on ultra-high energy cosmic rays and very-high energy gamma rays. Ultra-high energy cosmic rays are the most energetic and rarest particles in the Universe. These particles originate in cataclysmic cosmic events outside of our galaxy, but only arrive on Earth at a rate of one per square kilometer per century. Mostafá has studied these particles as part of the Pierre Auger Observatory Collaboration for over a decade. He and his research team also designed and built the 300 plastic bladders that hold ultra-pure water inside the very-high energy gamma ray detectors of the HAWC in Mexico.
Mostafá’s previous awards and honors include best teacher awards from the Colorado State University’s Alumni Association and the Student Alumni Connection; the Outstanding Mentor Award presented by the Students as Leaders in Science at the Colorado State University; and the Students Choice Award sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Utah.
Before joining Penn State, Mostafá was an associate professor of physics at Colorado State University. He earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1996 and a doctoral degree in high-energy particle physics in 2001 at the Instituto Balseiro in Argentina.