I began my formal physics education in my second year of high school. With each class the material would get closer and closer to the truth. Teachers would less frequently use the phrase “you will learn about that later” as we approached the fundamentals. To me, that is what physics is: the search for a fundamental understanding of how our world works. Given my love for the fundamentals, my interests lie in Particle Physics. I wish to continue my education in the fundamentals of physics in a graduate school where my own research provides me with the answers to my questions. Answers which can then be applied to research, and lead to innovation in the field.
I spent the majority of my time during my first semester at the University of Maryland (UMD) studying Particle Physics. I had been selected to take part in the inaugural semester of a new Honors course specifically designed to give physics students real world skills and experience with the computational tools used in Experimental Particle Physics (EEP). At the end of the semester, I was equipped with essential skills to do an independent search for the Higgs boson that reached a comparable observation significance, using the real data taken by the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012. To be fair, this exercise benefited from the fact that I knew what I was looking for and where to find it. Nevertheless, the joy and excitement this process gave me was profound, and I would go on to feel the same way when conducting my own research in the future.
During the next semester, I worked under Prof. Alberto Belloni on another computational physics project. My goal was to determine the feasibility of a particular method to search for Dark Matter in the monophoton channel. We started by studying the Standard Model (SM) processes Z+photon and W+photon; the Z(nunu)+G process constitutes the largest SM background to a monophoton search, in which the invisible dark-matter candidate is produced together with a photon. From this study I became even more familiar with the tools that particle physicists use, and the process by which they conduct research.
To get further involved in relevant EPP research activities, I joined Prof. Belloni’s lab. My research project focuses on studying the effects of radiation damage on plastic scintillators, with the goal of developing an accurate computer model that can simulate its effects. This research has important implications for predicting radiation hardness of scintillators, as it will allow for the simulation of the effects of radiation at the low dose rates present at the CMS Hadron Calorimeter (HCAL) at the LHC. A simulation that properly models the physics of radiation damage can help in defining sensible plans of irradiations (a very costly endeavor).
This work has required me to become familiar with both the hardware and software surrounding the experiment. I have been responsible for taking a variety of measurements and training new undergraduates on data taking procedures, as well as independently developing and running simulations in Geant4 to verify the underlying empirical model. We have established a systematic methodology and obtained some preliminary results for this ongoing project. The plan is to publish the confirmed results once the project reaches maturity.
The summer after my junior year, I used a grant I had received from the Honors College Director’s Scholarship to help fund a summer research trip to CERN. Once again, I was delighted to have the opportunity to gain exposure to both hardware and software. I focused on the assembly and testing of the ngCCM modules used as part of the Front-End electronics of the HCAL, while simultaneously working as a member of the CMS HCAL Prompt Feedback Group (PFG). My PFG related work involved finding unusual behavior in data, and doing analysis to assess possible causes and/or verify that the problem was resolved.
Because it is important to me, without neglecting my studies and research, I have contributed to physics outreach. Teaching middle and high school students about exciting applications of physics and showing off engaging demos through “Physics is Phun” and “Maryland Day” have been very rewarding, and I have continued sharing my love for physics when tutoring kids at the local Latin American Youth Center. I was also selected to present my research in a talk at the National Society of Black Physicist’s 2018 Conference.
Upon beginning my graduate education, I look forward to strengthening the academic foundations of my understanding of Particle Physics. However, what I am most looking forward to is the opportunity to push the frontiers of the field, and continue to pursue the answers to questions that I – and much of the physics community – have been asking for years. CMU is at the forefront of these efforts, and is home to many researchers who are working to push the envelope of High Energy Physics.
One of the exciting research projects being explored at CMU is the ongoing effort to pin down the mass of the neutrino. Professor Diana Parno is working on the KATRIN experiment, and is involved in many related projects. Among them are studies of the relevant environmental background in the above ground detector. Her group has helped show that cosmic ray muon-induced backgrounds are not a concern, however the decay of 210Pb into neutral Rydberg atoms and their subsequent thermal ionization in the spectrometer does cause considerable background. One of the current challenges is to develop effective shielding mechanisms to mitigate this process, which creates low energy electrons who compete with the signal electrons from tritium β-decay.
I am also interested in continuing my research for the CMS experiment, both in the upcoming detector upgrades, and especially in data analysis and searches for new physics. Professor John Alison has been looking for signatures that are of particular interest in Beyond the Standard Model (BSM) searches, including searches for Di-Boson and Di-Lepton Resonances. Numerous models of new physics predict cross sections larger than SM predictions.
My experiences, advisors, and mentors have guided me to become well-versed in my field. I have taken advantage of opportunities to work with professors, presented my research, and balanced my time between classwork and lab work. Now I am ready to move forward towards a doctoral degree as I pursue my passions as an experimental physicist, and continue searching for satisfying explanations.