Post-Doc Hannah Petersen Joins Nuclear Theory Group

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dr. Hannah Petersen joined the nuclear theory group in January 2010 to work with Professors Mueller and Bass. Her research is focused on the dynamical description of heavy ion collisions at ultra-relativistic energies as they are produced at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and soon will be studied at  the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. In these collisions, nuclear matter is heated and compressed to reach a state of matter similar to the early stage of the universe, only microseconds after the Big Bang.

Recently, the possibility of observing a "local" parity violation of the strong interaction in these nuclear reactions was mentioned in the press and has become one of the hot topics in heavy-ion research.  Petersen was able to show that conventional physics, namely fluctuations of the initial state of the colliding nuclei, can lead to experimental signatures identical to those suggested as evidence for the parity violation, thus invalidating some of the more sensational claims put forward regarding these measurements. Her interest for this subject was raised by the visit of an experimentalist to the Duke research group early this year. It is just one example of the opportunities afforded by the research atmosphere at Duke. The transport+hydrodynamics hybrid approach that is used for this study was developed by Petersen during her thesis research at Goethe University in Frankfurt for which she just received the "Karin and Gernot Frank Prize" for the best dissertation in 2009 in the Physics Department in Frankfurt.  The award ceremony was held at end of June this year on a boat on the river Rhine, also marking the 10th anniversary of the "Frankfurter Foerderverein fuer physikalische Grundlagenforschung," the organization that hands out the prizes to exceptional students and professors who have accomplished extraordinary achievements.  She also just learned that she received another honor—the so-called GRADE (Goethe Graduate Academy) award for the best interdisciplinary Ph.D. thesis  in the Natural Sciences at Frankfurt University, which carries a cash prize  2,500 Euro, shared with one other prize recipient. After obtaining her Ph.D. degree, Petersen applied for a Feodor-Lynen fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. This fellowship is awarded to the best young scientists in all disciplines from Germany and allows them to perform postdoctoral research for up to two years in a foreign country in selected research groups. Once she had decided to go to the U.S. the choice of coming to Duke was straightforward. The offer of a place to work with two well-known experts in the field of hot QCD matter physics with complementary expertise was very attractive, and Petersen knew that the Duke Group boasts a very successful tradition regarding  former Lynen Fellows, several of whom now hold faculty rank appointments at institutions in the U.S. and Europe. The warm welcome in the first weeks and the  inspiring atmosphere which has already led to interesting new results that are on  their way to publication, have exceeded her expectations: "I felt from the beginning that they really want me to be here, which helped a lot especially in the beginning since a transatlantic move is never easy. I really enjoy the friendly atmosphere and how efficiently everything is handled at Duke.  The support that I receive from both Berndt Mueller and Steffen Bass allows me to find my way in doing research." In the first half year, Petersen was invited to give presentations at three workshops all over the country which is a very important step in an academic career. The time at Duke University so far has been very productive and interesting for the young postdoc and she is looking forward to many more rewarding experiences during her stay in the United States.