Central Michigan University’s physics department is collaborating with Michigan State University to give faculty and students a chance to work in a world-class superlab.
In July 2012, the College of Science and Technology filled three new physics positions as an initiative to bring a group of researchers to CMU capable of collaborating with the nearby $600 million National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at MSU.
Georgios Perdikakis, Matt Redshaw and Kathrin Wimmer were selected from a pool of nearly 50 candidates for their qualifications in nuclear physics research, especially because of their previous experience doing research at NSCL.
Their inclusion brings the physics department to five nuclear physics professors.
“CMU as an academic institution is interested in investing resources in new strategic areas so we, as an institution, can compete at a top, world-class level,” Physics Department Chair Christopher Tycner said.
CMU was especially interested in coordinating with the NSCL because of its status as one of the most state-of-the-art research facilities in the world. Among the advanced equipment housed at the lab is a particle accelerator – a machine used to collide beams of stable particles to create exotic and rare isotopes.
CMU physics students will have the opportunity to travel to MSU to conduct experiments in the $600 million facility, an opportunity exclusive to few in the world, let alone the United States.
“This provides a great opportunity for students at CMU to participate in research on a larger scale at a national lab,” Redshaw said. “It really is a national lab, and it’s one of the few facilities in the world at which these types of experiments can be performed.”
So far, there have been a handful of students under each professor to take advantage of the opportunity, but it’s not only limited to graduate or upper-level undergraduate students. Freshmen and masters students are also encouraged to participate in experiments at the lab.
It does not cost anything for students to work in the lab. However, travel expenses and parking must be covered by the student.
Each professor specializes in a different sub-field of physics, bringing high levels of expertise to a relatively small department.
Perdikakis said he worked on several projects in his post-doctorate work and as a staff researcher for the NSCL from 2007-12. His responsibilities included building parts of the accelerator, as well as performing research at the lab.
He called the lab the “flagship for nuclear physics in our nation” and said it was aimed in several directions, pushing the boundaries of current technology to become faster and more accurate.
Redshaw spent his three-year post-doctorate work at the lab measuring atomic masses of isotopes that do not naturally exist on Earth in an effort to learn their properties, such as their nuclear structure.
“Energy and mass are related, so if you can measure mass you can learn something about the energy that you need to hold the nucleus together,” Redshaw said. “So, we can learn something about the structure of the nucleus based on how much energy it takes to bind it together.”
Meanwhile, Wimmer conducted her post-doctorate research for almost two years, studying nuclear structure and nuclear reactions.
“What we want to understand is how nuclei are formed and why we exist,” Wimmer said. “Maybe the Big Bang created only very light particles; we want to know how the heavy elements in the universe are formed.”