Had an excellent two weeks in the Light Zone! Thanks to everyone involved -- the mods for organising, all the scientists for interesting discussion, and of course the students for their great questions and enthusiasm! Special thanks to the Wellcome Trust and IoP for making the Light Zone happen! :-)
(0) School: Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School [Brooklyn, NY, USA]; (1) University: Hampshire College [Amherst, MA, USA]; (2) Post-graduate: Stony Brook University [Stony Brook, NY, USA]
BA in Physics, MA in Physics & Astronomy, PhD in Astroparticle Physics
(1) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, (2) Oxford University
I do particle and astroparticle physics, simultaneously probing the Universe at its largest and smallest scales.
Imperial College London (High Energy Physics group)
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love to travel to new countries in distant parts of the globe to work on exciting experiments in exotic locations. (And then go sightseeing afterward!)
I hunt subatomic ghosts. These ghosts hold the answers to some of the biggest questions in the universe. So they’re awfully hard to catch… but it’s worth the chase!
The “ghosts” that I hunt are subatomic particles called “neutrinos”. They come from many places, like exploding stars, or the heart of the Sun. We can also make them here on Earth, in nuclear reactors or with powerful particle accelerators.
That last part — particle accelerators — is what I work on these days. I work at a lab in eastern Japan (called J-PARC). We start by colliding a proton beam with a graphite target. Lots of subatomic junk comes out. We use magnetic horns to focus the bits that we want into a beam; when those bits decay, they emit neutrinos. And thus, our neutrino beam is born!
Once we have created the beam, we measure it. After all, you have to understand what you’ve made to know what you’re starting with. Then we send the beam down into the Earth’s crust. Nearly two hundred miles later, it comes out again in western Japan, at a 50,000 tonne tank of water called Super-Kamiokande. There, we measure the neutrino beam again. By comparing the “BEFORE” and “AFTER”, we are hoping to explain why you and I are here. Or, to be more general, we are trying to understand why there is any matter in the universe at all, rather than a universe filled with nothing but energy. (Pretty cool, huh?)
My Typical Day
There really is no such thing as a “typical day” for me. Sometimes, I sit in front of the computer writing and running analysis software. Other times, I’ve got wall-to-wall meetings. The fun days, though, are when I get to play with lab equipment. Check it out:
When I was studying cosmic rays, I built a solar-powered laser calibration facility in the Argentine desert (called “pampas”).
When I was studying neutrinos from the heart of the sun, I fired an electron gun into a tank of the world’s purest water — all located beneath a kilometer of solid rock!
And when I was hunting for dark matter, I regularly made temperatures that were far colder than the universe itself, using something called a “helium dilution refrigerator”!
So there’s nothing really “typical” about my days… and that’s just the way I like them!
What I'd do with the prize money
Produce an interactive online film about the history of the universe
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
adventurous, optimistic, inquisitive
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Set constraints on exploding stars by searching for subatomic particles given off when stars die
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Professor Herbert Bernstein, my undergraduate advisor inspired me to become a scientist
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Was I ever what?? When was I ever NOT in trouble at school?!?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I love love LOVE musical theatre! Especially “Les Miz”, “Sweeney Todd”, and “Avenue Q”!
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
How to choose only one?! Maybe SCUBA diving in a particle physics detector? Climbing Mount Fuji bottom-to-top? Walking along an Alaskan glacier?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
In order of increasing incredulity: (1) Winning a Nobel Physics Prize, (2) being the first person to set foot on Mars, (3) building my very own suit of [functional] Iron Man armor
Tell us a joke.
A neutron walked into a bar and asked, “How much for a drink?” The bartender replied, “For you, no charge.”