Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 23  |  Friday, November 10, 2000  |  Number 19
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Fermilab Users Exploring Physics, And Building the Future

by Mike Perricone

They come from Abilene Christian University in Texas, and Yale University in Connecticut; from Academica Sinica in Taiwan, and York University in Canada.

Their group sizes range from a single Turkish physicist to 232 Italian scientists and students; from three collaborators working on the Picosecond X-Ray Source experiment, to 642 working on the DZero Silicon Tracker.

Fermilab users come from virtually everywhere, work in virtually every area of the lab, and meet any and every challenge presented to someone working away from home for a week or twoˇor a year or two.

"In the very crowded CDF/DZero trailers, I know some groups have scheduled rotations to determine who gets to sit at computers at a given time," said Dan Amidei of the University of Michigan, outgoing chair of the Fermilab Users Executive Committee. "Maybe that's just a measure of how dedicated the users are at Fermilab. We come here to do science, and we'll do itˇno matter what."

Fermilab users are defined as "qualified researchers:" physicists and graduate students from universities and research institutions, participating in collaborations whose experiments are listed in the annual "Fermilab Research Program Workbook." An experiment must qualify as "active" to be listed. It must be in a stage of detailed design, construction, data-taking or data analysis.

Users are explorers, drawn to the frontierˇthe lab is a frontier by mandate. Fermilab's one-sentence mission charges the lab with the responsibility of "providing leadership and resources for qualified researchers to conduct basic research at the frontiers of high-energy physics and related disciplines."

As the world's highest-energy accelerator facility, Fermilab offers unmatched potential for discovery to 2,506 users from across the country and around the world. These explorers come from 116 institutions in 25 foreign countries; and from 101 institutions spread among 34 states in the U.S. They continue to mine data from Collider Run I of the Tevatron, and they work on preparations for Collider Run II for a new era of discovery beginning in March 2001.

"If your interests are in high-energy physics, this is where the biggest accelerator is and this is where you have to be," said Christina Hebert, a doctoral student from the University of Kansas working at the DZero detector. She has worked on software for the central preshower detector at DZero, and is currently working on testing the new silicon detector.

She's been working on a doctoral thesis based on data from Run I, though shifting from her original focus on the physics of the bottom quark. Users work on a sort of barter system: They exchange their contributions to hardware and software for access to data. And while the first Run II data is not far away, there remain many fundamental stones unturned in Run I data.

"Students who come now or a year from now can contribute to Run II and use Run II data," said Arnold Pompos, a doctoral candidate at CDF from Purdue University, who has been working on the CDF endplug. Pompos is also investigating supersymmetry, specifically the search for "stop" the supersymmetric partner of the top quark.

"I've been working at CDF for a while now, and I'm looking at Run I data," he continued. "There's still lots of work to doˇalways. Students come here to look at the data collected in the world's premier lab. That data might hide something you're interested inˇwhich is what everyone hopes to find. The finest instruments yield the best data. People have examined the data, true, but it's not obvious where the `stop' might show up. Which decay channel? Maybe you'll find the right one."

While physicists and university professors often visit the lab on a schedule determined by the needs of the collaboration, students like Pompos and Hebert often live on the site in the area called "the village" while completing their work and their studies.

"It's like living in a big park," said Hebert. "I can ride my bike to work. Or rollerblade. I can participate in all kinds of sports. I can always talk to my friends about physics. I have all the advantages of living where I work, and working where I live. And, of course, the disadvantages. It can be hard to separate the two environments."

The Fermilab Users' Organization helps address the issues that come up when life and work are so intertwined, both for users and the Fermilab community at large. The 12-member Users Executive Committee meets every month or so, handling "whatever comes up," as new UEC chairman Larry Nodulman described it. The UEC also has standing committees focusing on outreach and education; quality of life issues; younger physicist issues; and the annual Washington trip in the spring.

There isn't much time to check out the cherry blossoms during the visit to the capital, a hands-on lesson in the budget process and the importance of communicating the results and benefits of physics research. Last year's trip, coordinated by another former UEC chairman, Greg Snow, was a combined excursion by the users groups from Fermilab and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, including visits to the the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"We made a particular effort to bring students and postdocs," said Amidei, "people whose futures are invested in the field, and who demonstrate a real commitment to the future."

"We're always willing to willing to get involved in activities that bring positive attention to our field," said Ben Kilminster of CDF and the University of Rochester, who was on the trip last March. "I believe we are obligated to share with the public exactly what we are doing and why it is the best research to fund: for the future of science, and for the future of technology."

Another Rochester student, Florencia Canelli of DZero, came away impressed with the necessity of being a good communicator as well as a good physicist.

"We can't take for granted that, just because we are doing science, someone will automatically provide us with money," Canelli said. "We have to try to explain what we do in a clear and compelling way. I learned that I can work in science because, long ago, someone did a good job of explaining what could be done at Fermilab. This is one way I can say, `Thank you.'"

Fermilab Users by the Numbers

  • Domestic
  • International

  • last modified 11/10/2000   email Fermilab