Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 26  |  Friday, June 13, 2003  |  Number 10
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

The World at Work

Fermilab users blend backgrounds and cultures in the pursuit of science

by Sena Desai

Universities Research Association, Inc. president Fred Bernthal (right) presents the URA Thesis Award to Valmiki Prasad, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago.

They come from a farming village of 400 people in southern Slovakia, or from the concrete metropolis of 13 million in Mumbai, India. They come from as far away as Protvino, Russia, or from as nearby as Chicago.

Fermilab users are defined as scientists who are members of experimental collaborations classified as active in the annually published "Fermilab Research Program Workbook." There are more than 2,600 of them, from 213 laboratories and universities the world over; from 99 institutions representing 34 states in the U.S., and another 114 institutions representing 31 countries.

Diverse nationalities, personalities, cultures, and ideas come together on 6,800 acres of prairie at the frontier of high-energy physics research, with the goal of unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

They bring with them their own styles of problem solving in their own areas of expertise. Mike Kirby, a Duke University Ph.D. student at CDF, says this blend adds a unique value to the laboratory's research. "The Japanese are big on neutrino physics and the CERN group has more experience with neural networking than we do," says Kirby. "And when there is a problem in those areas, they draw from their past experiences."

The number of Fermilab users has increased from 2,281 in 2000 to 2,615 in 2003, with students representing about 26 percent of the total. There are now 1,628 physicists and students from U.S. universities and laboratories, up from 1,469 in 2000; and 987 users from other countries, up from 812 in 2000.

The Institute of High Energy Physics in Russia has 62 researchers working at Fermilab, the highest among foreign users. Ecuador, Ireland, Slovakia, and Turkey send one researcher each. From California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory sends 59 users, while the University of California, San Diego, sends one. The CDF collaboration has 720 users, while DZero has 647. For students, working with the best scientists in their field is an especially enriching experience.

Avdhesh Chandra, a Ph.D. student from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India is visiting Fermilab for six months. Chandra did remote shifts from India, on the DZero detector, but now he's excited about being in the control room at Fermilab. "Working in the DZero control room is easier," he says. "I have access to experts right here, and a problem can be solved right away."

Arnold Pompos, a Purdue University student originally from that small village in Slovakia, came to Fermilab in 1996 after Run I--at what he calls the best of all times for him. "I was handed Run I data and told to use it and abuse it," he laughs. "I could not have imagined a better time to come. The data was taken, cleaned up, and ready for analysis. At this moment, Fermilab has data that no else has. No one accelerates particles like we do."

Pompos is concerned about Fermilab’s future prospects once the Large Hadron Collider era begins at CERN, the European Particle Physics laboratory. However, Satyanarayana Bheesette, an engineer from Tata Institute, regards the LHC era as "far away," adding: "There is a gamut of interesting science happening here that draws people from around the world."

Bheesette arrived ten years ago as part of the Tata Institute team that designed the 200 scintillation counters for DZero. He always believed that small groups of people could conduct research more effectively than large collaborations, but he was immediately and pleasantly surprised at Fermilab.

"There is a big team of people from all over the world working together, yet maintaining their identities," Bheesette says. "I do my job and I am respected for that. Fermilab’s environment stimulates research."

The lab environment also offers a wide worldview. Kirby says he now has friends from 15 different countries, and the interactions can be instructive.

"Every culture has a traditional structure and a way they interact with their superiors and with each other," he says. "For example, the Italians are more expressive than we are. This just adds some spice. We all share the experience of different cultures while being on the same side—that of high-energy physics."

Photos from 'the World at Work'

Universities Research Association: http://www.ura-hq.org
Users Executive Committee http://www.fnal.gov/orgs/fermilab_users_org/new_uec.htm

last modified 5/23/2003   email Fermilab