Training at the frontiers of physics | MSU Today


Michigan State University is creating a new program to help Spartan students push the boundaries of physics and fuel the economy with nearly $ 2 million in grants from the US Department of Energy Office of Science, or DOE-SC.

As a graduate student, Kendall Mahn gained extensive practical experience working with detectors in particle physics experiments. Now, as an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at MSU, she is working to make these experiences more common for students, with additional support, education and training, as part of the new TRAIN- program. MID. Credit: Courtesy of Kendall Mahn

The Michigan High Energy Physics Instrumentation Internship, dubbed TRAIN-MI, will provide graduate students with a distinctive educational program focused on creating high-tech tools for studying high-energy physics. These instruments will help scientists better understand what the universe is made of, for example, by probing abundant but mysterious particles such as neutrinos and dark matter, said Kendall mahn, the program manager.

“There is another element to this as well, in that it is a hidden driver of our economic strength,” said Mahn, associate professor at the College of Natural Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Answering the big questions of the universe takes time, but the tools researchers develop to answer these questions can often have a more immediate impact. Advances in these technologies can also help improve the devices people use in their phones, computers and medical devices on a daily basis.

Beyond that, training students to build these instruments equips them with the skills to take on positions in companies, universities, and national laboratories that make the United States a leader in science and technology. innovation.

A white box with a green “S” sticker block is connected by wires to a thinner silver box with a digital display indicating “248”, an analog gauge and a green Spartan helmet.

A photo of a so-called “cold test bench” developed at MSU to test the electronics of the Deep Underground Neutrino, or DUNE, experiment at cold temperatures. Credit: Courtesy of Kendall Mahn

“I see our responsibility as trying to give students as wide a range of skills as possible and to help them connect with these different communities,” Mahn said. “We are going to train a generation of students who are ready to help.

His MSU colleagues join Mahn in developing the program. Wade fisher, physics teacher ; Nathan Whitehorn, assistant professor of physics; and kyle brown, assistant professor of chemistry at the Installation for rare isotope beams, or FRIB. MSU is one of three institutions to receive such a grant from DOE, Mahn said. Stanford University and the University of California at Davis are the other two.

“MSU is a truly unique place for a unique opportunity like this,” she said. “We have a solid, warm and welcoming environment for this kind of work. “

It also turns out that instruments used in high-energy particle physics can also be useful in nuclear physics, which is another of MSU’s scientific strengths. After all, the university is home to the FRIB, which is a one-of-a-kind particle accelerator, and the top-ranked graduate program in nuclear physics. Brown of FRIB facilitates a leading role for nuclear physics students in the TRAIN-MI program.

Kendall Mahn, associate professor of physics and astronomy at MSU, is working on a workbench project with Elias Taira, a Charles Drew science researcher.

Kendall Mahn, associate professor of physics and astronomy at MSU, is working on a workbench project with Elias Taira, a Charles Drew science researcher. Credit: Courtesy of Kendall Mahn

“There is a very good connection with the nuclear science program, which gives us a very collaborative atmosphere,” Mahn said.

But she hopes graduate students from outside of physics will also participate in the TRAIN-MI program, which offers coursework, mentorship, and certification upon completion. To ensure that students get hands-on experience working with technology on real-world experiments, MSU is also partnering with Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois; and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, originally the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, in California.

“I want graduate students to know about and participate in this program,” Mahn said. “This is the opportunity to learn many useful and exciting skills. “

Several scientists stand around a large silver hexagonal instrument on a table.

With the TRAIN-MI program, Spartan students will gain hands-on experience in the development of real instruments, like the South Pole Telescope component, lying on the table in this 2017 photo, which Nathan Whitehorn (second from right) has helped build and design before joining MSU. The State of Michigan is now part of the international team developing next-generation tools to study radiation emanating from the Big Bang. Credit: Courtesy of Nathan Whitehorn

The idea for this program came from Mahn’s own experiences as a graduate student in particle physics. While getting his doctorate. at Columbia University, she had a rare opportunity to help assemble two detectors, including building one from scratch. Particle physics projects are large and time consuming, so once they are up and running, students may not gain much hands-on experience with high-energy instrumentation.

There are currently huge experiments in particle physics, but many students will not know how detectors work intimately or learn how to build them, ”said Mahn.

She saw a way to help students broaden their expertise with a graduate certification program. Based on a framework provided by the MSU accelerator science and engineering internship model developed at FRIB ae thanks to the generous support of DOE-SC, TRAIN-MI is now a reality.

“We will provide students with support, training and a chance to build new instruments with other like-minded people,” Mahn said. “IIt’s really fun to build something that works and tells you something new about the world. Especially now, after months of isolation and screen time, it’s very satisfying to build something with other people.

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