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Elena Pierpaoli

Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Contact Information
Phone: (213) 740-1117
Office: SHS 371

Personal Website


Ph.D. Aastrophysics, SISSA-ISAS, 10/1998
M.S. Physics, University of Milano, 3/1994

Academic Appointment, Affiliation, and Employment History

Professor, University of Southern California, 01/2011-  
Associate Professor, University of Southern California, 04/2007-12/2010  
Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, 06/2006-03/2007  
Research faculty, Caltech, 09/01/2004-05/31/2006  
Research Staff, Princeton University, 01/01/2002-09/01/2004  
CITA National Fellow, University of British Columbia, 11/15/1998-11/14/2001  

Description of Research

Summary Statement of Research Interests

I am a theoretical cosmologist, specialized in model comparison with data. I mainly work on the cosmic microwave background and the large scale structure of the Universe.

Research Keywords

Cosmology, large scale strucutre, cosmic microwave background, early Universe, dark matter, data analysis

Research Specialties

As a theoretical cosmologist, my main aim is to determine the content of the Universe, its evolution and characteristics now and at very early times. While these questions have been outstanding issues for Humankind for centuries, we are now in the position to address them is a quantitative way through the study of astrophysical objects outside our own Galaxy. Two major astrophysical observables can be invoked for this purpose: the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, otherwise known as the radiation that comes to us almost from the times of the Big Bang, and the distribution of galaxies beyond our own. The study of such anisotropies has tremendously advanced the knowledge of the field. Indeed, they convey very straightforward information on the global geometry of the Universe, the kind of matter and energy it contains and also the kind of processes that very early on have seeded the inhomogeneities which have then evolved into the observed bound structures around us (e.g. galaxies and clusters of galaxies). The last generation CMB satellite (Planck) is now flying and collecting data. Part of my group has been involved in the preparation of this mission and is now analyzing the data. One of my research topics consists in testing possible theoretical scenarios of our Universe by comparing the predictions it would imply for these anisotropies with the actual observations. Apart from the CMB, I also extensively work on galaxy clusters. Clusters are the biggest gravitationally–bound objects in our Universe and are composed of dark matter, galaxies and free “gas” (free charged particles). Clusters are important for two reasons: first they are tracers of the underlying matter distribution, second they form for gravitational collapse (contrasting cosmic expansion) and merging events of smaller objects (like galaxies). Studying clusters we can therefore probe the nature of the dark energy (leading the current expansion), dark matter and the assembly of luminous matter.

Affiliations with Research Centers, Labs, and Other Institutions

Caltech, Visiting faculty
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Non-resident affiliate

Guest Lectures in Courses

PHYS 190-Freshman Colloquium: "What's new in Cosmology today", 2010-2011   
TASI lectures: The Cosmic Microwave Background, 2009-2010   

Honors and Awards

NASA Group Achievement Award (2011), Fall 2011   
NASA Group Achievement Award - Planck Data Analysis Team (2010), 2010-2011   
NSF ADVANCE Fellow, 7/2004-6/2010  

Service to the University


Chair, Physics Graduate Admission, 03/2010-10/2012  
Member, WiSE College committee and advisory Board, 2010-2011   
Member, Graduate Admissions, 09/2006-08/2010  
Member, Graduate and undergraduate curriculum, 2009-2010   
Member, Strategic University Planning, Spring 2010   
Member, Cosmology program, 03/2007-12/2009  

Media, Alumni, and Community Relations

USC Vision and Voices event "Einstein Cosmic Messangers"- organizer, 2010-2011   
217th AAS Meeting: Press release on Planck early results, Spring 2011   
Invited guest at the USC College Program: "Junior Faculty Showcase", 2007-2008   
Invited guest at the USC College Doctoral Fellowship Program:"Inside the Academics Studio", 2006-2007   
Invited guest at the WISE Undergraduate Students Residence at USC, 2006-2007   

Service to the Profession

Professional Memberships

American Astronomical Society, 12/2010-  
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