White honored for research, collaboration and outreach
Herman White likes to be the man behind the scenes; the guy who gets things done, but doesn't like to take any credit.
Still, White will have his moment in the spotlight this February when the American Physical Society hands him the 2010 Edward A. Bouchet Award, a prestigious prize that recognizes a distinguished minority physicist who has made significant contributions to physics research.
The APS highlighted White's work on the Kaons at the Tevatron (KTeV) experiment, public service and his history of mentoring.
"This really is a well-deserved award," said Fermilab's Greg Bock, who worked with White on KTeV in the 1990s. "Herman is just a very nice guy. He's been here for a long time, and he is well-respected by all of his colleagues and well known and respected away from the laboratory."
During his 35-year career, White has helped to design, commission and analyze data from some of the world's most well-known particle physics experiments, including E701 neutrino oscillation experiment, SciBooNE and KTeV, which highlighted White's technical skills.
There wasn't enough room to build the KTeV experiment in one space, so White coordinated the staging of each piece all over the laboratory site and the move of components from all over the world to the KTeV hall when it was finished.
"That was one of the bigger jobs - bringing the pieces together and making them all fit," Bock said. "In that role, Herman had to interact with every individual in that collaboration. It takes a special, even-handed person to make it all work, and Herman did a great job at that."
White led the effort to put the KTeV experiment together extremely quickly and well.
"When we turned the thing on, it worked perfectly from the very first pulse," White said.
Although the experiment took its last beam in 1999, Ph.D. students are still writing papers using the experiment's data.
White's personal skills and passion for science also win him acclaim. Students, colleagues and politicians revere him for his passion for science and his efforts to boost science education, guiding the next generation of budding scientists.
Fred Bernthal, president of URA, one of Fermi Research Alliance's two parent organizations, met White at Michigan State University more than four decades ago. White was doing his initial graduate work there, and Bernthal was a professor.
"He was the same guy that he is now," Bernthal said. "He is a pleasant sociable guy. He is good at mentoring young folks and really knows how to relate to Congress and the public."
White has served on many advisory panels for organizations including: the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and the National Academies. He is also an active member of the community. He is an adjunct professor and serves on the board of trustees at North Central College in Naperville and is a past member of Edward Hospital and Health Services Board of Directors.
White also served on the APS Committee on Minorities, where he contributed to the successful execution of a new student scholarship program, which had a mentoring component.
He can't remember all the students he's mentored during his career, but they often remember for him. Young scientists come up to him at meetings and start conversations, often reminding him of the impact he has had on their lives.
Now, he'll have the chance to reach more students. The award also provides funds for the recipient to visit at least three academic institutions where the impact on students, particularly minority students, would be significant. He'll deliver technical lectures, talk with students or visit classrooms.
White will accept the award at the February APS meeting in Washington, D.C.
"I was kind of surprised," White said about receiving the award. " When you spend your time doing the things you love, recognition is a pleasant bonus."
— Rhianna Wisniewski