A day in the life: Programmed for success
||Former particle physicist John Mansour still creates analytic
solutions—this time for retail clients. Photo: Reidar Hahn
John Mansour's professional life has zigged and zagged like a bright green line on an
oscilloscope, always centered on a love of physics.
"As a kid, I was always reading about space travel and astronomy—couldn't get
enough of it. So I pretty much knew I was going into physics from a very early age,"
Now in his early 50s, he is vice president and leads the development team in the
Advanced Solutions Group of Nielsen in Schaumburg, Ill.—not far from Fermilab,
where he conducted his Ph.D. thesis experiment.
"When I was at Fermilab, 90 percent of my work was programming or building
hardware," he says. "At Nielsen, our group writes a variety of custom programs to
process and analyze large amounts of data for the consumer packaged-goods industry,
mostly food and beverages. We get very challenging and interesting projects to work on,
and the people I work with are smart and hardworking, very similar to Fermilab. So not
much is really changed."
Mansour has made some adjustments over the years, however, including during his
graduate studies at the University of Rochester, where he had intended to study optics.
The first career turning point arrived when he crossed paths in the hall one day with
University of Rochester Physics Professor Tom Ferbel.
"He asked me if I wanted to work with his team at Fermilab for the summer," Mansour says. "Well after that summer, I was hooked. I loved the work, the people and the environment."
Mansour joined Fermilab's E706, an experiment observing photons from quark-gluon
interactions. With Ferbel as his advisor, he measured a major source of experimental
background noise for his thesis.
Fellow Rochester and E706 grad student Nikos Varelas became a close friend, and
the two still meet often to discuss physics news and life.
"The experience John had in high-energy physics provided a very good background
to bridge the gap between statistical methodology, application development and analysis
of business needs," says Varelas, now a physics professor at the University of Illinois at
Chicago. "And although he left physics 18 years ago, he is still keeping up with the
developments and discoveries in the field."
—Heather Rock Woods