Student Research Awards

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Logo credit to CERN

This Spring, Duke Physics students have been recognized for their excellence in research and ambition.  Read the following profiles to see what they will be up to this summer and fall.   The student research projects will involve travel to Fermilab in Illionois, LAL in France, and the LHC in Geneva.   Several students will be working with data from the ATLAS experiment at the LHC.

View Photos of the students and their research areas on Flickr.

Student Profiles and Research Descriptions

  • Ariana Minot, a senior physics major, has received a 2010 Fulbright Scholars fellowship to study in France over the next year.  Minot will be working at the Linear Accelerator Laboratory (LAL) in Orsay, France, analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition she will be developing hardware upgrades for the ATLAS detector, one of the large collaborative experiments at the LHC. The LHC has just started colliding proton beams at unprecedented energies in order to try and unravel some fundamental mysteries of the very early universe. Over the last 2 years Minot has been working with Prof. Mark Kruse on the ATLAS experiment. She is currently writing her undergraduate honors thesis on a novel technique some members of the Duke ATLAS group have been developing to search the data recorded by ATLAS for evidence of physics beyond the Standard Model. Specifically, this search studies collision events that produce high energy electrons and muons.  Minot has also played a significant role in helping Prof. Kruse and his postdoc, Esben Klinkby, understand the performance of the ATLAS particle tracking system, an essential ingredient for understanding particle signatures in ATLAS.  Minot spent the summer of 2009 in Geneva at the LHC where she could interact with many other physicists working on ATLAS. Her research experience at Duke, as well as her coursework in the Physics Department, have provided the ideal foundation to embark on her Fulbright Scholar year abroad, which will coincide with the much anticipated first year of physics at the LHC.
  • Alejandro (Alex) Cortese, a sophomore physics major, is the recipient of a 2010 Mellon Mays Fellowship to support physics research over the next two years.  Cortese has started working with Prof. Mark Kruse on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). His winning proposal is to do research with Prof. Kruse on understanding the ionization signature of particles traversing the Transition Radiation Tracker (TRT), one of the tracking detectors that is part of ATLAS. This will lead to developing methods to discriminate certain new particles not predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that could be produced from the LHC proton-proton collisions. An observation of such particles would give valuable clues as to what theory lies beyond our current understanding.
  • Yu Zeng, a fifth year experimental high energy physics graduate student, was awarded the Universities Research Association (URA) Visiting Scholarship to support his thesis work entitled "An Improved W Boson Mass Measurement at CDF." URA is a consortium of 87 leading research-oriented universities primarily in the United States, with members also in Canada, Japan, and Italy. Awards are judged on the scientific merit of the proposed activity for researchers from URA institutions to work at Fermilab. Yu Zeng, together with his advisor Prof. Ashutosh Kotwal and other colleagues, is using data collected by the CDF detector at Fermilab to push the measurement precision of the W boson mass down to 0.03%. Since the constraining power on the Higgs boson mass is currently limited by our knowledge of the W boson mass, this precise W mass measurement will further constrain the mass of the undiscovered Higgs boson. An exciting possibility of this research is that the predicted Higgs boson mass might disagree with existing bounds from direct searches, or it might disagree with the measured mass of the Higgs boson after it is discovered at the Large Hadron Collider. In either case, the W boson mass measurement would pave the way to new physics beyond the Higgs theory.
  • Siyuan Sun, a junior physics major, has received the Dean's Research Fellowship to support his research at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the world's highest energy particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland. Siyuan and his advisor, Prof. Ashutosh Kotwal will analyze the data collected at the ATLAS experiment at CERN to search for doubly-charged Higgs bosons.  The theory of Higgs bosons has been postulated to impart the property of mass to all the fundamental particles. The doubly-charged Higgs boson is even more special because it can also explain why the universe does not behave identically as its mirror image, a fact demonstrated by the ground-breaking experiment by Chien-Shiung Wu in 1957. A new theory which restores  the symmetry between particles and their mirror images for the weak nuclear force was proposed in 1975. This theory activated the symmetry-restoring mechanism at high energy.  A fundamental tenet of this theory was the prediction of the doubly-charged Higgs boson, making it a very interesting phenomenon to explore.  If the doubly-charged Higgs particle is found, this would confirm that the universe and its mirror image behave identically at high energies (called parity symmetry). This symmetry is on equal footing in terms of importance as the more familiar translational and rotational invariance of the universe. Indeed, the intuition for parity symmetry is comparable to the idea that if you rotate the whole universe by some angle, all physical processes remain the same (imagine if that were not true). Therefore the confirmation of parity symmetry at high energy will provide a basic understanding of our universe. This discovery would also confirm the famous Higgs mechanism and open the door to a whole host of new theories which are based on the doubly-charged Higgs theory. The search for the doubly-charged Higgs boson will be the topic of Siyuan's senior thesis.
  • Zongjin Qian, a freshman physics major at Duke, was awarded a 2010 Dean's Summer Research Fellowship for travel to CERN this summer, where he will be doing research with Prof. Al Goshaw and the Duke High Energy Physics group.  Qian will be involved with the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. When he returns to Duke he will continue to do research with Goshaw using data from the ATLAS experiment.  Together, they will be studying the carriers of the weak force (W and Z bosons), and search for new particles decaying into these.  This research will contribute to Qian's senior honors thesis project.