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LSU physicist awarded top gravity research prize

Louisiana State University

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IMAGE: LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy Assistant Professor Ivan Agullo has received the first place award from the Gravity Research Foundation for his essay titled 'Gravity and Handedness of Photons.' view more 

Credit: LSU

LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy Assistant Professor Ivan Agullo has received the first place award from the Gravity Research Foundation for his essay titled "Gravity and Handedness of Photons," which he co-authored with Adrian del Rio and Jose Navarro-Salas, from the Spain's Universidad de Valencia. Adrian del Rio visited LSU for a period of three months in 2016, to work with Agullo in the investigations on which the awarded essay is based.

"This contest has become very prestigious among researchers working in the broad area of gravitation, and very top researchers compete every year," Agullo said. "Winning this competition has become a great international distinction."

The Gravity Research Foundation, founded in 1949, works to promote scientific research on gravity and annually awards outstanding essays in the field of gravitational studies. Winners of past top essay awards include Nobel Laureates and famous physicists like Stephen Hawking, who won in 1971. The top five essays, including Agullo's, will be published in an issue of the International Journal of Modern Physics. He will also receive a $4,000 award. Agullo received the foundation's top essay award in 2011 for his work, "Stimulated Creation of Quanta during Inflation and the Observable Universe."

Agullo received his Ph.D. in 2009 at the Universidad de Valencia and has been an assistant professor of physics at LSU since August 2013. He specializes in quantum mechanics, quantum gravity and cosmology. He is the only researcher from LSU who has won this award, and the first of Spanish nationality.

Agullo's most recent research focuses on the way gravity and quantum mechanics affect Maxwell's Theory of Electromagnetism. More specifically, his work analyzes how something that was believed to be fundamental symmetry of this theory, known as electric-magnetic duality symmetry, may disappear in the presence of gravity. His 2017 essay builds on this research by analyzing how the handedness, or helicity, of photons behaves under strong gravitational fields.

This discovery may have important consequences for other areas of physics. For instance, this research could be helpful in order to extract information about the evolution of the universe immediately after the Big Bang by analyzing the polarization of the photons that form the cosmic microwave background.

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