Ayana Arce: HEP's Newest Faculty Member

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Image used with permission from SAO Science Media Group

The physics department’s newest faculty member, Ayana T. Arce, earned her PhD at Harvard, did a Chamberlain post-doctoral fellowship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and is thrilled to have settled at Duke. As a high energy experimental physicist, Arce has worked with a lot of different physics departments at Fermilab and the Large Hadron Collider. “Each department has their own flavor,” she says. “High energy physics at Duke has got a perfect combination of energy and healthy collegial spirit.”


Arce says she became an experimentalist because she was more drawn to writing computer programs than losing herself in complex mathematics. “When writing a program, what you want to do is access something which an individual with human limitations cannot access,” she says. She’s also fascinated by the idea of using detectors to “look” at events humans can’t see.


Like high energy physicists the world over, Arce is anxiously waiting for the LHC to come back on line later this month. The collider was shut down for the winter in order to prepare it for running at higher energies than it achieved in the fall.


"I work at the ATLAS experiment, which is one of the general purpose experiments at the LHC,” Arce says. “I’m specifically interested in seeing signs of physics we don’t understand related to the heaviest particles we’ve ever produced—specifically the top quark. We don’t understand where it gets its very large mass. Maybe it has a special connection to other heavier particles we’ve never seen.” Arce says by watching how top quarks decay and interact with other particles, such as the Higgs boson, she hopes to gain a better idea of its properties and whether those properties fit the standard model or not.


In her new role as assistant professor, Arce enjoys teaching and working with students. “The great thing about experimental high energy physics is you get to share the graduate students. Most of the faculty are working toward common goals and the students come along too,” she says. Undergraduates and graduate students interested in high energy physics have opportunities to travel to Japan, Switzerland, and Chicago and interact with an international physics community.


Arce thinks Duke is a great place to learn physics by doing physics. “The idea is always to involve students,” she says. “I think that’s really healthy because that’s how progress is made. It’s a good characteristic of a group and it’s great for the students who are here and that’s something I want to be a part of.”


For more details on Arce's research visit the Duke News website.