Elena Aprile

Columbia University

Primary Section: 13, Physics
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2021)


Elena Aprile is an experimental physicist recognized for her precision measurements of noble liquids for radiation spectroscopy and imaging. She is known particularly for her work with liquid xenon detectors and their application in gamma-ray astrophysics and dark matter direct detection. Her approach to find dark matter is by detecting its signature in a massive yet extremely low background detector filled with pure liquid xenon, operated deep underground to shield it from external radiation. With the XENON project, she conceived and developed one of the most sensitive searches for dark matter. Her XENON experiments have been at the forefront of the field for more than fifteen years, delivering groundbreaking results which have constrained a variety of dark matter models.
Aprile was born in Milano, Italy. She studied physics at the university of Naples, Italy and at the university of Geneva, obtaining a PhD in physics in 1984. She was a postdoctoral fellow in physics at Harvard university and in 1986 she joined the physics faculty at Columbia university where she is now "Centennial Professor of Physics". She was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2001 and recieved the Berkeley-Lancelot prize of the American Astronomical Society in 2019. Aprile is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Elena Aprile Noble Liquid Detectors Laboratory at Columbia University studies the fundamental properties of liquid xenon and liquid argon for radiation spectroscopy and imaging in particle physics and astrophysics. Early studies focused on the response of these noble liquids to McV radiation with a focus on measurements of the ionization yield and the factors limiting the energy resolution. Subsequent studies involved the simultaneous measurement of both the ionization and the scintillation yields, with kcV to McV radiation. Aprile’s interest in imaging McV gamma-rays from astrophysical sources, led her to propose and develop the Liquid Xenon Gamma-Ray Imaging telescope (LXeGRIT), the first Compton telescope based on a liquid xenon time projection chamber, which was tested in two long-duration balloon flights in 1999 and 2000.
Since 2001, Aprile’s research interest turned to dark matter direct detection with experiments using liquid xenon. She is the founder and spokesperson of the XENON Dark Matter project, which aims to discover dark matter particles as they scatter off xenon atoms in massive yet ultra-low background liquid xenon time projection chambers, operated deep underground. The XENON experiments, with kilogram to tonne-scale detectors, have improved the sensitivity to dark matter interactions by five orders of magnitude in the last fifteen years, producing world-leading results at each step.

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