Ani Aprahamian

Freimann Professor, Experimental Nuclear Physics

A Cosmic Career

“We are all made of star stuff,” the astronomer Carl Sagan once said.

From an early age, Ani Aprahamian has been intrigued by “star stuff,” particularly the nuclear reactions at the heart of stars, supernovae and other cosmic events. And that passion has led to groundbreaking research and a leading role in shaping physics higher education.

Aprahamian’s research is aimed at gaining an understanding of the elements of the universe. In her laboratory, she attempts to duplicate the nuclear processes in the universe that control stellar evolution, trigger supernova events, and lead to thermonuclear explosions observed as novae and X-ray bursts. Each constituent atom of our bodies have been processed through such cosmic events before they were ejected into space and eventually condensed to form “us” in our solar system.

Aprahamian previously served as director of the nuclear structure laboratory at Notre Dame, which is the longest continuously funded research effort at the University.

She also was instrumental in gaining a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a physics frontier center at Notre Dame named JINA — The Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics — a collaborative effort between researchers at Notre Dame, Michigan State University and the University of Chicago. The institute joins together the research efforts in separate disciplines ranging from astronomy to astrophysics to nuclear physics to study the broad range of nuclear processes in the universe.

A fellow of the American Physical Society, Aprahamian is chair of the scientific council of GANIL, a prominent nuclear physics laboratory in France. She has served as program director for nuclear physics and nuclear astrophysics at the National Science Foundation for the past two years and is currently co-chairing the study for the use of isotopes in the U.S. for applications as broad as medicine, the environment and homeland security.

A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1989, Aprahamian served as Physics Department chair from 2003-05. The number of physics majors tripled during her tenure.  She has taught courses ranging from graduate nuclear physics to medical physics and will be teaching a course in “Energy and Society” for non-science majors in the spring semester.