Archive for ‘Research’

The Research Special

0 Commentsby   |  07.16.13  |  Department, Research

We are proud to have students and Faculty at prestigious research labs and universities for summer research projects.  We can be found at our typical summer haunts working at ACU, Brookhaven National Lab in New York, FermiLab near Chicago, and the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany.  We also have a new project at the University of Illinois, and two students on summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) projects at Illinois and the Colorado School of Mines.

We are thrilled that ACU has produced a new video highlighting our summer research!  Enjoy this Wildcat Video Minute (ok, two-and-a-half minutes):

WVM header

Notice that this is linked to a playlist on our spiffy new Youtube Channel!

Want to learn more about our research?  Want to know what it is like to be an ACU student at the lab?  No problem, have some DANGO.  Here’s the June issues of our DANGO (the Doings ANd Goings On) newsletter–now with the picture of the week:


-Dr. D



Summer 2013 – DANGO #1


0 Commentsby   |  05.27.13  |  Department, Fun, Research

Happy Memorial Day!

This year, I am spending mine in the PHENIX control room at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in New York along with Dr. Towell and 4 ACU students.  We have been responsible for running a $100 million experiment from 8 am – 4 pm since last Tuesday.  So far, the all-ACU crew has done a great job: no explosions, no fire balls, no oxygen masks, no black holes, and lots and lots of physics.

There is a real chance that this year we will record enough data to make the first W-boson measurement with the muon arms which will give a very important clue on the structure of the proton.  Simulations for this measurement were started in 2002. A grant from the NSF was awarded to ACU, UIUC, and two other universities in 2005. The detectors were constructed and installed in 2011. If this run is successful and we can fast track the analysis, then hopefully we will finally publish results in 2014–making this a 12 year project that has involved dozens and dozens of ACU students.

For the last 18 years we have a long-standing tradition of writing a summer department newsletter called DANGO (the Doings ANd Goings On).  Today, we continue this hallowed tradition:

DANGO 2013 Issue #1

-Dr. D


Research Updates


0 Commentsby   |  07.02.12  |  Research

This week is a two-for-one double DANGO update as we clear our plates in preparation of this week’s big physics news:

Make your plans to celebrate Higgsdependence Day this Wednesday.

-Dr D.

Summer of Physics 2012


0 Commentsby   |  06.25.12  |  Research


It was almost hard to believe that another school year had come and gone already.  Before we knew it, we were triaging our schedules to figure out what had to be done before we left town and what would get put off a few more weeks months, packing up the car, and driving off to the lab.

This summer we’ve got two students at ACU doing phonon imaging with Dr. Head, four students smashing atoms at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island in New York with Dr. Daugherity and Dr. Towell, four more students doing nuclear physics research at FermiLab near Chicago with Dr. Isenhower, two students working on a fission detector for NIFFTE at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California, and one student with Dr. Willis looking for gravity waves at the Albert Einstein Institute in Germany.   It is safe to say that this is one of our busiest summers ever!  (Hence the length of time it took me to get this post up…)  During this summer the sun never sets on ACU’s research.

There are lots of ways to talk about cutting-edge physics research.  There is the big picture overview of how we’re slowly unraveling the mysteries of the universe (and why that is worth our time and money).  There is the discussion on societal impact of how basic science research fuels technology growth, the economy, and (our primary focus) educating the next generation of people who will work in fields which haven’t even been invented yet.  Ultimately, this blog is about what ACU is doing in scientific research, so I’ll let most of our story this summer be told through the eyes of our students.

The day-to-day work of research is not likely what you would expect.  We rarely wear lab coats or safety goggles.  One day we’re writing code, the next day we’re soldering wires, the next day we’re going to a conference, or operating a $500 million detector, or (like today) building dams out of duct tape and styrofoam to keep the water away from our equipment during this torrential downpour.  We have high tech and low tech, exciting days and mundane days, and lots of setbacks for every breakthrough.

Here’s the first chapter of our story.  This is our first edition of our newsletter called the Doings ANd Goings On (DANGO) of ACU Physics Research:

DANGO 2012, Issue #1

-Dr. D



Funeral for a Collider

0 Commentsby   |  09.30.11  |  Physics News, Research

Today is September 30th, 2011.  Today marks the end of era in physics.  Today is the last day of the Tevatron.

The Tevatron at Fermilab

Fermilab, which sits outside of Chicago, has an interactive timeline showing some of the milestones of the Tevatron, which was one of the world’s largest atom smashers.  The final pieces were installed on March 18, 1983 (a few weeks after I turned four years old) and broke record after record.  The Tevatron will always be known for the discovery of the top quark in 1995.  In fact, nearly everything we know about the top quark today is due to Tevatron data.  The world’s best measurements of the W mass come from the Tevatron which tell us a great deal about the properties of the Higgs.  It is also noteworthy that the searches for a 4th generation of quarks or supersymmetric particles which turned up empty greatly constrained many theoretical models.  Finally, in a weird twist of fate, as of this moment the Higgs itself has run out of places to hide except for one tiny region just tantalizingly out of reach of the Tevatron.  One small upgrade, a few more years of data, and maybe the Higgs would have been ours.

ACU has worked with Fermilab for many years, and we are still running an exciting experiment which will provide amazing insight into what protons are made of.  Even though Fermilab’s collider program is over, they are still using the main proton beam for experiments such as ours, or the experiment which will check (and most likely overturn) the faster-than-light neutrino measurement from OPERA.

NPR has a nice story here, and for more technically-involved but bleaker updates there is live blogging today from the funeral here.

Life at the Labs


0 Commentsby   |  06.30.11  |  Research

It is fun and easy to talk about huge colliders, massive experiments, and the latest cool results, but often the day-to-day life gets overlooked.  Curious about cutting-edge physics research as viewed through the eyes of our students?  Well, until the movie comes out you can read our latest Doings ANd Goings On at the link below:

DANGO 2011 – Issue #2

-Dr. D

PHENIX publishes 100th paper


0 Commentsby   |  06.23.11  |  Physics News, Research

We received word this morning that the 100th peer-reviewed paper by PHENIX has been published online.  To the best of our knowledge, every single paper includes at least one person from ACU on the author list.  The first paper was published in April 2001, and it is an amazing accomplishment by the PHENIX Collaboration to reach this milestone in 10 years.

View the complete list of published peer-reviewed articles on PHENIX’s web page.

Summer 2011 Research


0 Commentsby   |  06.22.11  |  Research

After a long, beautiful hibernation, we are back with this summer’s physics research!

This summer we’ve got students and professors working in New York, Chicago, Colorado, New Mexico, and Idaho.  Not bad for a physics department from small-town west Texas.  Most of our work falls under the umbrella of nuclear physics by studying the structure of the proton and directly measuring nuclear fission processes.  We also have students who have recently worked on various research projects in medical physics, homeland security, and optics just to name a few.  Of course, the research experience helps our graduates go off to a huge array of different fields in physics, engineering, education, and computing.

My plan is to let you hear directly from the students about their summer research experiences, so for the first time I am posting a copy of our weekly newsletter: the Doings ANd Goings On (DANGO) of the ACU Physics department.  Since our group is quite literally scattered across the country, we have the students and professors write a weekly status update for the DANGO newsletter.  By our records, this is the 17th year of DANGO (and the 30th year of nuclear physics research at ACU).

Research is an inherently messy process.  The User’s Center here at Brookhaven National Lab has a poster with quote from Einstein on the wall:

“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research”

DANGO captures it all.  The joy and the sorrow.  The triumphs and the suffering.  The work and the play.  The serious and the not-so-serious.  The difficult process of doing something which has never been done before.  And you’re welcome to come along for the ride.

Click on the link to download:  DANGO 2011 – Issue #1

-Dr. D



3 Commentsby   |  07.21.10  |  Research

[Editor’s note:  This is the first in a long overdue series introducing the different ACU physics projects.  This story is by ACU students Kyle Gainey and Spenser Lynn.]

Everything in the universe, from the smallest particles to the largest stars, is controlled by the laws and forces of nature.  These forces cause an apple to fall to the ground and even give power to the sun.  Phenomena such as these have fascinated people for ages and their curiosity has led them to ask the question, why?  Physics is a natural science with the goal of explaining the laws of nature in a defined, mathematical way.  The men and women who study physics are called physicists and, using the scientific method, they work to unravel the mysteries of the universe.  To do this, physicists try to find out what everything is made of and how it works.  By now, they have learned a lot: all things are made of tiny bits of matter called molecules.  The smallest drop of water possible is a water molecule (H2O).  Molecules are made of smaller particles called atoms.  Atoms form into different types called elements and are organized on the periodic table of elements.  A water molecule, for example, is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  Smaller still are protons, neutrons, and electrons which build atoms.  Most high school text books stop at protons, neutrons, and electrons and declare them to be the smallest building blocks of nature, but nuclear physicists are interested in even smaller particles such as quarks and gluons, which make up protons and neutrons.  Observing these microscopic particles with the human eye or even a microscope is impossible, so it is necessary to build large detectors that use high speed technology and computers in order to make observations about these particles.

One such detector is the Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment, also known as the PHENIX Experiment.  PHENIX is so large that one person could not operate it alone, so hundreds of physicists from all over the world work together in a team called a collaboration.  PHENIX is the largest of four particle detectors at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island, New York.  PHENIX is made up of many different parts, each of which play a specific role in the experiment.  Altogether, PHENIX weighs more than 6,000,000 pounds and is larger than a house.  By using PHENIX and RHIC, physicists hope to better understand the fundamental laws of physics, the Big Bang, and a new state of matter called Quark-Gluon Plasma that may have existed in the moments after the beginning of the universe.

ACU students and professors standing in front of the PHENIX detector at RHIC.

ACU students and professors standing in front of the PHENIX detector at RHIC (click for a slightly larger version).

In order to to study quarks, gluons, and other small particles, physicists at PHENIX follow a multi-step procedure that begins with a gold ion beam and ends with a published paper.  Beginning at the Tandem Van de Graff, a gold ion beam is produced.  A gold ion is a gold atom that has some of its electrons stripped away.  The ion beam travels through a pipe that uses magnets to direct the beam to the booster. At the booster, the beam’s energy is increased and the particles are accelerated.  The beam then travels to the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS), where it is accelerated again before traveling to the RHIC beam line.  Once in RHIC, the beam is traveling at 99.995% of the speed of light, which is about 671,000,000 miles per hour.  RHIC is a circle with a circumference of two miles, and located at different location along the ring are the four particle detectors.  Before entering RHIC, the ion beam is split in half, with half of the beam traveling around RHIC clockwise and the other half traveling counterclockwise. The beams are kept in two parallel beam pipes that only intersect at the detectors.  At PHENIX, the two beams collide and the gold ions smash into each other with enormous amounts of heat and energy.  The temperature inside of a collision is greater than one trillion degrees Fahrenheit.  When the ions collide, they create a shower of particles, and different kinds of particles are scattered in all directions.  These particles then travel through the many types of detectors in PHENIX where high speed electronics record what happened.  The signals from the electronics are then sent from the detector and are organized into an event and recorded.  The events are continuously monitored to ensure that nothing has gone wrong.  The data are then sent to the RHIC computing facility for processing.  Supercomputers process the data and reconstruct it so that physicists can learn things such as the particle type, momentum, energy, and charge.  After reconstruction, the data are analyzed.  By looking at the collected data, physicists hope to make new discoveries about elementary particles, the Quark-Gluon Plasma, and proton spin.  Their finding are then published in a scientific paper to be shared with the rest of the scientific community.

The research going on at PHENIX is real and is making an impact on the lives of people all over the world. From medical applications such as cancer treatment and MRI, to improving nuclear energy and other forms of alternative fuels, physicists are working to solve some of the most pressing challenges today. The future looks bright for PHENIX and all fields of physics as physicists continue to probe deeper into the mysteries that exist in our universe and continuously learn new things.

Kyle Gainey and Spenser Lynn

The LANSCE Beam Pipe


1 Commentby   |  07.06.10  |  Research

(Contribution by Daniel Pamplin, Senior Physics and Math major.  Daniel is working at Los Alamos National Lab this summer.)

Upon hearing the words linear particle accelerator, it is common to think of a very high tech building connected to a long accelerator.  It is easy to expect very complicated machinery in a modern organized building.  Inside, everything is partitioned off neatly and fairly open.  The Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE for short) is nothing like that.

The LANSCE accelerator begins in a very organized fashion.  Upon driving past the guard gate there is a bend in the road and then the beginning of the accelerator comes to view.  The road turns past the main complex and follows the accelerator down its half mile length, then the unexpected happens.  What was one long building blossoms into a hodgepodge of structures that seem to be placed randomly.  To traverse the path between any of these edifices it is often necessary to travel through an obstacle course of 3 ton concrete bricks, makeshift stairways, beam dumps, barbed wire fences, precolombian ruins and beam pipes.  The photo below shows one such obstacle, and in case you can not read the two signs posted near the pipe they say, “DANGER, HIGH RADIATION AREA” and “Beam Pipe Do Not Linger.”

The LANSCE particle beam--do not linger.

The LANSCE particle beam--do not linger.

Taken aback by the bizarre layout and the hive network of dirt paths, it would be easy to dismiss LANSCE as a backyard science project that has grown out of control, but  the proton accelerator has one more surprise.  The design may be random, but some of the most cutting edge experiments take place in these odd buildings.

After the protons are accelerated to 84% of the speed of light in just a half mile, they strike a target that spews out neutrons in all directions.  The energy of the neutrons depends on the angle that they leave the target.  This explains the seemingly random placement of some of the structures.  Each different building is receiving neutrons with different energy levels that are then used by the scientists for their own purposes.  Anything from cross-section data to irradiating microchips can be examined with this exceptional facility.

LANSCE is a very district place to work with awesome science and technology perched on the edge of a  plateau with a great view, and where ducking under a radioactive beam pipe is just another day at the office.