Faces of the Pack: Undergraduate student wins Goldwater Scholarship for work on dark matter detection

Guglielmo Panelli continues research with hopes of furthering his knowledge in grad school

Panelli believes that if the GPS satellites pass through dark matter, then the atomic clocks within the satellites would differ from one another.

Panelli infront of a whiteboard with equations written on it
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When he’s not helping other students understand their course material or studying his way to graduation, Guglielmo Panelli spends his time developing code with hopes of detecting dark matter. Panelli is dual majoring in math and physics and participating in undergraduate research as part of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. The McNair Scholars program is a federal TRiO program funded at more than 150 institutions across the country. McNair prepares first-generation college students, such as Panelli, for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

Due to his studious research as a member of University Professor of Physics Andrei Derevianko’s research team, the GPS.DM collaboration, Panelli was able to compose a research essay proposing that dark matter detection could possibly be achieved using the atomic clock data from GPS satellites. His research and essay helped him win the Goldwater Scholarship. The prestigious Goldwater Scholarship honors students with impressive academic and research credentials who have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Panelli is one of 62 nationally recognized Goldwater Scholars in mathematics. He hopes to continue researching dark matter and theoretical physics throughout his career.

The Derevianko Group

The Derevianko Group. Panelli is second from left.

“Dark matter is one of the grandest challenges in physics,” Panelli said. “About 85% of all matter is dark matter, and although we know that it exists, we don’t know what the essence of it is because it doesn’t emit or absorb light. We can't see it. It’s like we are all searching for a needle in a haystack.”

Piqued interest before the Pack

Before he even reached high school, Panelli knew that he wanted to study within the STEM fields. When he enrolled in high school, he chose to focus his interests in a biotechnology program at Rancho High School in Las Vegas. It was there that he took his first physics class.

“I immediately fell in love with physics,” Panelli said. “If I hadn’t taken Mrs. Santana’s class, this world that is so challenging and fascinating may not have existed to me. I am so thankful for the encouragement of Mrs. Santana and the passion she instilled in me.”

Panelli applied for college his senior year of high school.

“The University of Nevada, Reno seemed like the perfect refuge for me from Las Vegas,” he said. “The location, financial aid, and research classification helped me decide.”

The University is a comprehensive, doctoral university, classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Finding belonging within the Pack

Panelli has found joy working for Physics Lecturer Kristin Lewis in a learning assistant program. He works beyond expectations by posting videos on YouTube of himself giving review lectures and recitation videos for the students he works with.

A year-and-a-half ago, Panelli sought out a research opportunity to fulfill his requirement as a McNair Scholar. He chose Hartman Professor Andrei Derevianko from the physics department as his mentor, and Panelli became a member of the GPS.DM collaboration. 

“I am grateful to have Andrei Derevianko as a mentor,” Panelli said. “It’s nice to be more than just a pair of hands; I find vitality in my research as I am able to play a role – however minute - in the pursuit of human discovery."

One of Panelli's learning assistant videos that he uploads to help students in Physics 181.

The community has recognized Panelli for his work on numerous occasions. He received the Nevada Undergraduate Research Award last year. He has also given talks about his research in dark matter in Los Angeles, Calif., Denver, Colo., and Reno. The Nevada State Undergraduate Research Journal published Panelli’s paper about the detection of Kepler-17b with the Great Basin Observatory. Panelli is currently working on several publications regarding other research.

Panelli has always dreamed of earning his doctoral degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley and plans to apply for a doctorate there in the fall.

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