Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physics

The newly established Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physics is an alliance of faculty and scholars dedicated to research in astronomy, astrophysics, planetary and astroparticle physics. For the next half decade, this alliance will work to provide answers to fundamental questions about the composition and evolution of our Universe. The Center seeks to tackle these questions from several points of view by combining state-of-the-art observational data from the ground and space on the nature of visible and invisible matter, with detailed theoretical and numerical modeling from planets to galaxies, and linking them together cohesively.

Researcher Clusters

The Center has four interconnected, interdisciplinary research clusters:  

Clusters encompass a range of topics, from elementary particles to planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. These groups overlap in their science goals, in the methodology used, and in taking advantage of sharing state-of-the-art experimental and observational data.    

Above: Mock observation in the UV (Galex) and IR (Spitzer) filters of a NIHAO galaxy. Below: IFU mock observation of the HI gas in the same galaxy.
  • Cosmology

    Understanding dark matter and dark energy is one of the biggest puzzles in modern Physics. Structure and galaxy formation offer a unique venue to test different theories for the dark sector of the universe. Ambitious space missions will be launched in the next years and are expected to provide a tremendous amount of data on galaxy distribution in the universe.  The data gathered from missions needs a solid theoretical framework to be interpreted, a framework able to provide precise predictions on the expected distribution of the large scale structure of the universe for different models of the dark sector.  This cluster concentrates its efforts around three key questions:

    • How do the properties of dark matter and dark energy influence galaxy formation, and, conversely, how can we use galaxies to constrain the dark sector of the universe?
    • How can we link new emerging models for the dark sector to the observed large scale structure distribution of the universe?
    • How can the evolution of our visible universe help the pursuit for a greater understanding of the fundamental laws that govern the universe?


    Above: Gas and stellar density of a Milky Way galaxy after 1.5 Gyr from the Big Bang performed in 4 different cosmological models. The top left assumes cold dark matter, then clockwise three different model for warm dark matter with dark matter particle mass of 5, 1 and 2 keV.


    Astronomy Camp

    is an annual event produced by CAP3. It took place January 25-28, 2022 virtually, hosting over 100 students eighth grade through collegiate level. CAP3 professors, research staff and other guest speakers held introductory seminars on topics ranging from exoplanets, the solar system, the birth and death of stars, and the milky way. This crash course enabled students to acquire first-hand experience in listening to and engaging with collegiate level seminars. 

    Capturing the Cosmos


    The three day free-of-charge astrophotography workshop in October, 2021 was well attended with over 100 participants at the onset of the program. Capturing the Cosmos was catered for advanced photographers who sought a clear understanding of what it takes to create breathtaking photos of the Milky Way and the night skies. The workshop included theoretical tutorials, CAP3 astronomy seminars, and a practical guide in the Abu Dhabi desert. At the end of the program students understood how to plan trips and shoots successfully, how to capture and compose the images, and how to bring the images to life with special advanced post processing techniques. CAP3 partnered with Manarat Al Saadiyat and Al Sadeem Observatory for the workshop and was sponsored by Nikon and ibrandconnect.

    The flyer for the event may be found here.

    The Astronomy Camp helped me recognize an already instilled love for space. I learned various topics from the prevalence of astronomy in history to the places it could reach in the future. More importantly though, I was able to understand the research and observations that go into astronomy through the eyes of scientists.

    Student, Astronomy Camp '21

    Astronomy Camp

    The inaugural online Astronomy Camp in January 2021 hosted 24 students aged from eighth grade through collegiate level. Ten professors and research staff held introductory seminars on topics ranging from exoplanets, the solar system, the birth and death of stars, and the milky way. This crash course enabled students to acquire first hand experience in listening to and engaging with collegiate level seminars. A full agenda may be found here

    Students came from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah. 42% young women and 58% young men attended the camp. And an overwhelming 95% of students ranked the course as Excellent or Very Good. Astronomy Camp will continue bi-annually with even more interactive elements!

Research Spotlights

Light-1 launch

UAE-Bahraini nanosatellite Light-1 launched successfully into Orbit from the International Space Station. Read about how NYU Abu Dhabi was involved in the historic launch. Read about it here in Italian or here in English. 

A cosmic romance written in the stars

An international team of astronomers, including CAP3 Fellow, Research Associate, Benjamin Davis has made a rare finding of what could be one of the largely missing population of “intermediate-mass” black holes. Read about the Arabic News on Al Khaleej here

Mohamad Ali-Dib wins in the 5th Annual NYUAD Graduate & Postdoctoral Research Showcase

Mohamad Ali-Dib works as a Research Scientist at CAP3 . An abstract of his winning presentation on Craters Identification with Artificial Intelligence is below.

Impact craters are the dominant morphological structures on most solar system planets and moons. Their numbers can be used as a diagnostic tool to estimate the surface age of objects, while their shapes and sizes encode valuable information on the impactors that created these craters. Finding new craters and retrieving their sizes has, however, generally been a manual process, and as such is rather extremely time-consuming. Mohamad's research focuses on using modern Artificial Intelligence techniques to detect craters in space probes imagery data. The algorithms he developed are currently being deployed to help plan the upcoming Emirates Lunar Rover's path on the Moon.

Image: Lunar surface (left) and the craters detected by the machine learning algorithm Mohamad developed (right)

NYUAD student team wins an Award of Excellence from the Worldwide Logo Design competition for visual identity of new Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physics (CAP3)

An NYUAD student group was awarded an Award of Excellence from the Worldwide Logo Design Award (WOLDA) for exemplary design and concept in the New Logo, Asia category. Over 223 logos and identities from 30 countries participated in the eleventh WOLDA awards.

The WOLDA is a worldwide competition for logos and corporate identity, honoring the world’s best work. It was founded in 2006 in Milan, Italy and is now organized by the International Editorial-Design and Research Forum in Meerbusch, Germany.

The NYUAD student group was composed of Manesha Ramesh, Ilya Akimov, and Jude Al Qubaisi. In fall 2019, the group took the Foundations of Graphic Design class with Assistant Professor of Practice of Visual Arts, Goffredo Puccetti. As part of the course, the whole class brainstormed, drafted and pitched new center visual identities for the Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physics (CAP3). And mentored by Professor Puccetti, the winning team did a fantastic job!


  • Professor: Goffredo Puccetti
  • Logo concept: Manesha Ramesh
  • Visual Identity: Manesha Ramesh, Ilya Akimov, Jude Al Qubaisi
  • Masters: Humus Design

Writing in the stars

Using an AI technique (a neural network architecture called cycleGAN) Mario Pasquato turned simulated star clusters into the Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physic's abbreviation CAP3. The neural net learns to translate images from one class (e.g. pictures taken in winter) to another (e.g. pictures taken in summer) by being shown examples. The result is very general and can be applied to translating a distribution of black points on a white background, as would be obtained by a dynamical simulation of a star cluster, into APOD-like pictures (on which the net was actually trained). Effectively, Mario generated these images that appear as if he is "writing with stars”.

The images points_X.png are semi-random distributions of points in the shapes of letters, and the resulting output is in the pictures named X.png. 

Scientists Are Making Virtual Galaxies 

Watch Andrea Valerio Maccio discuss how he's trying to unravel the deepest mysteries of the universe using virtual galaxies built on a supercomputer.

Mind Over Dark Matter

Professor Andrea Macciò has been searching his entire life for something that science knows is there but has never seen.


Researcher Team

The Center's core team is diverse and includes: 

  • local Physics and Mathematics faculty members, researchers and PhD students at NYU Abu Dhabi
  • researchers from the like-minded Center for Space Science at NYU Abu Dhabi 
  • faculty from the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics at NYU New York
  • international faculty members from the NYU Global Network

Please find the core members below.

    • Francesco Arneodo Principal Investigator | Associate Dean of Science and Professor of Physics
    • Ian Dobbs-Dixon Principal Investigator | Program Head, Physics; Assistant Professor of Physics
    • Andrea Macciò Director | Associate Professor, NYU Abu Dhabi
    • Dave Russell Principal Investigator | Assistant Professor of Physics
    • Milan Bogosavljevic Co-Principal Investigator | Associate Lecturer of Physics
    • Joseph D Gelfand Co-Principal Investigator | Associate Professor of Physics
    • Francesco Paparella Co-Principal Investigator | Associate Professor of Mathematics
    • Hisham Sati Co-Principal Investigator |Associate Professor of Mathematics
    • Katepalli Sreenivasan Co-Principal Investigator | Principal Investigator, Center for Space Science
    • Ingyin Zaw Co-Principal Investigator | Associate Professor of Physics
    • Piero Nicolini Visiting Professor | Associate Professor of Physics


    The Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Science is now recruiting for a Post-Doctoral Associate/ Research Associate.

    We expect successful applicants to work towards improving the collaborations and connections among the different areas. Applicants should have a PhD in astronomy, astrophysics, or a closely related field. The appointment will be for an initial period of two years with a likely extension to a total of three years. CAP3 fellows will have dedicated funds for traveling, computing, publications, etc.

    Apply here