Brendan M. Lynch
KU News Service

KU team earns grant to extend leading-edge work at Large Hadron Collider

Thu, 10/10/2013

LAWRENCE — When Philip Baringer was just a graduate assistant working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, his job consisted mostly of lugging around cables and wiring equipment. But he was keen to take a larger role in the experimental particle physics he was witnessing close up.

“I loved the intellectual atmosphere,” Baringer said.

The grunt work paid off. Today, Baringer is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, and has contributed in his career to a pair of revolutionary discoveries in subatomic physics: the top quark, and — most recently — the Higgs Boson.

Indeed, Baringer is a major player in a team of KU particle physicists who recently have earned a three-year, $1.78 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue its research at the Large Hadron Collider, with Baringer as a principal investigator, along with KU researchers Alice Bean, David Besson and Graham Wilson.

“It’s great to be part of a team that has made a big discovery,” he said. “It’s a great payoff for years of painstaking work.”

Much of the KU team’s work is split between the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and Lawrence. When they’re on KU’s campus, often the researchers wake up early for videoconferences with collaborators back at CERN.

“Our research group has two postdocs who live at CERN year-round, so KU has a continual presence there,” Baringer said. “We also have graduate students and undergraduate students who have spent considerable time at CERN. When I’m there, I’m usually meeting with people from our large international collaboration.”

The KU team is helping to design, build and improve components for a pixel detector housed within the Compact Muon Solenoid, a 12,500-ton instrument that tracks particle collisions within the Large Hadron Collider.

“The part of the CMS detector that is closest to the beam collision point is the pixel detector,” said Baringer. “It’s much like the pixels in your digital camera, only it is working in a high-radiation environment and taking hundreds of millions of pictures each second. Because of the radiation environment, the lifetime of this device is limited, and we’re going to have to replace it in a few years. KU is part of the team that is designing the replacement. Alice Bean is the faculty member who is especially involved in this.”

What’s more, the investigators manage KU-based postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, undergraduates (and even some high school students) in the designing and building of components that eventually will play a role in the Large Hadron Collider. Perfecting tools such as a digital module emulator, for testing part the pixel detector design, KU researchers are improving the transfer of information about particle collisions from sensors to the computers that will crunch the data.

“We’re developing a way to get signals from the pixel detector out to the computers where they can be recorded,” Baringer said. “Part of the signal transmission is on copper wire and part on fiber optics. We have a lab in Malott Hall where we have been testing each step in this process of getting the signal from the device to the computer.”

The team from KU is part of a complex organization that includes scientists from all corners of the globe, working together to push forward their understanding of the “Standard Model” of physics, which predicted the existence of the Higgs boson.

“In 2015, the LHC will turn on again at a higher energy — 13 TeV rather than 8 TeV,” Baringer said. “KU hopes to help develop the new detectors, calibrate and operate the detector, and look for new, exciting things in our data analysis. One of many things that interest us is the connection between the Higgs boson and the top quark. The top quark is the most massive elementary particle known. The Higgs is the second most massive and the Higgs field is supposed to provide mass to all particles. So how the Higgs interacts with this most massive of all particles is something we want to study.”

Aside from the work on the collider, the new NSF grant also supports research on cosmic ray physics by KU investigator Besson as well as educating a new crop of young physicists at KU.

“You can think of this grant as helping to train the next generation of scientists,” said Baringer. “The computing techniques, detection hardware and analysis strategies that particle physicists use can be applied to a wide variety of technical problems, so it’s great training no matter what these young scientists end up doing in their careers.”

Ultimately, the work of the KU team could contribute to technological breakthroughs based on the discovery of the Higgs boson and other new understanding of the subatomic structure of the universe.

“Historically, everything we’ve learned about nature at the subatomic scale has proved useful,” Baringer said. “It’s been estimated that a third of the world’s economy came from the discoveries of quantum mechanics  — think computer chips, lasers, designing molecules. I see no reason that trend won’t continue of turning basic research into everyday applications.”

Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@NYTimes columnist @WCRhoden will speak at a symposium about race and sports April 23.
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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