Astronomy professor to present public lecture on 'The Ghost Particle' Feb. 16

Barbara K. Kennedy
February 14, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Doug Cowen, professor of physics and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, will present a free, public lecture titled "The Ghost Particle: A New Tool for Deep-Space Discoveries," at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building, on the University Park campus.

Cowen's lecture is among the six weekly lectures in the 2019 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science. The overall theme of the 2019 series is "Cosmic Clues Open New Frontiers in Space Science." Registration is not required.

Doug Cowen on February 7, 2008 at the South Pole Station

Doug Cowen, Penn State professor of physics and professor of astronomy and astrophysics, at the South Pole research station on February 7, 2008

IMAGE: Penn State Eberly College of Science

Cowen is among the scientists at Penn State and other institutions who announced in July 2018 a discovery that launched a new era of space research. The discovery, by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory team and collaborators, was the first-ever identification of a deep-space source of high-energy neutrinos — ghostly yet super-energetic subatomic particles that interact only very weakly with ordinary matter. IceCube is a detector with a huge array of more than 5,000 basketball-size sensors frozen into a cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice, deep below the South Pole.

This groundbreaking detection and the ensuing follow-up discoveries by satellite and ground-based observatories solved a decades-long mystery: where and how these subatomic particles are generated with energies that are many times greater than those attained by Earth's largest particle colliders. The team's research revealed that a flaring supermassive black hole, 3.7 billion light years from Earth in the constellation Orion, is the first-known deep-space of birthplace of these super-energetic neutrinos.

"For 20 years, it had been one of our dreams as a collaboration to identify the sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos," said Cowen, a founding member of the IceCube collaboration and a coauthor of the historic scientific paper published in the journal Science in July 2018. "This identification now has launched the new field of high-energy neutrino astronomy, which we expect will yield more exciting breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe and fundamental physics."

The final lecture in the 2019 Frontiers of Science series will be at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 in Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building on the Penn State University Park campus. This lecture, titled "The Universe Beyond Einstein: Lessons from Primordial Messengers," will be presented by Ivan Agullo, assistant professor of physics at Louisiana State University and a former a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State.

About the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the central Pennsylvania area and beyond. Financial support for the 2019 lectures is provided by the Eberly College of Science and by its Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Communications at 814-863-8453 or More information about the lectures, including archived recordings of previous lectures, is available online.

Last Updated February 15, 2019