Mel Shochet, of CDF and the University of Chicago, is not yet sure of the changes he might encounter as a new Member of the National Academy of Sciences. "I hope that nothing will change," he says. "However, I have already been warned of even more committee assignments!"
Shochet already chairs the 20-member High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, which advises the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation on particle physics planning. He views the work of the newly-constituted committee, convened in March, as critical: "We are at a time of extraordinary scientific opportunity, when the prospect for making major advances in elementary particle physics is greater than it has been in at least three decades. . .[These advances] will surely change our understanding of the universe."
Shochet was among 72 new Members chosen by the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, April 25. Since its founding in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, the National Academy has honored scientists for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. These experts also serve pro bono to address critical national issues and give advice to the federal government and the public-as, for example, the National Academy's EPP2010 panel which issued its report on Wednesday, recommending that the US "announce its desire to be the host country for the next state-of-the-art particle accelerator," the proposed International Linear Collider.
Shochet's tenure as a CDF collaborator includes the top quark discovery in 1995. He is also the Elaine M. and Samuel D. Kersten, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor in the Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago, and Professor of Physics at the University's Enrico Fermi Institute. He regards his new status as a National Academy Member as an individual designation but a collective honor. "Election is based on a person's contribution to science," he says. "However, in particle physics, individual scientists do not work alone. I consider this honor to be a recognition of the contributions that the CDF collaboration has made to science, and on their behalf I am very pleased."
The recognition also extends to the work of an entire career, beyond a single result. While he regards the top quark discovery as "certainly the most exciting time in my career," it has not been the only rewarding time. "Another high point was when we observed the rare decay K_L -> mu+mu- many years ago in an experiment at the Argonne Zero Grade Synchrotron," he says. "Making a new piece of experimental apparatus work can also be very gratifying. A good example is the commissioning of the CDF trigger hardware that was built at Chicago by the group led by Henry Frisch, Carla Pilcher, and myself. Another was the observation of tracks from heavy quark decay in the Silicon Vertex Trigger (SVT) that was built by the Pisa, Chicago, Geneva, Rome, and Trieste CDF groups."
If a particle physicist does not work alone, neither does he or she set a career path alone. "My mentor was [1980 Nobel Laureate] Jim Cronin, who was both my graduate student advisor at Princeton and the leader of our research team in my early years at Chicago," Shochet says. "I have also learned a great deal from my long-time collaborator Henry Frisch." Frisch, of CDF and the U of C, responds: "I think it's a wonderful and much-deserved honor for Mel. And it's a testimony to the important physics Fermilab and the CDF group have done over the years."
While Shochet believes that "paths toward a career are often very different," there were strong signs in his own formative years. "I was a tinkerer when I was young, especially with electronics," he says. "When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work in a high energy physics lab. That summer I worked on the group's experiment at [Brookhaven National Laboratory]. Spending 14 hours a day assembling a detector and making it work was great fun. I was hooked."