Reflections

With my summer experience finally coming to an end, I can only reflect on my research as being every bit as fulfilling as I had hoped for. Having had the ability to experiment in the straw-tube laboratory at NIU, attend meetings at Fermilab and interact with the local Kane county community has definitely been an opportunity of a lifetime. Through the benefit of the Summer Scholars program I have been able to fully dedicate my summer to academia and achieve my goals of gaining valuable research experience all the while positioning myself to deliver a worthy Honors Capstone.

P1000969Of course, none of this would have been possible had the Honors Committee not placed their faith in me to succeed as a Summer Scholar in the first place, and to this well placed trust I once again offer my gratitude. Furthermore, I would also like to thank my faculty adviser Dr. Eads for his guidance throughout the project, Jason Goode for his assistance in running the Summer Scholars program, NIU students  Mary Shenk and Aaron Epps for their collaboration with the g-2 project, Fermilab and the NIU Physics Department for providing me with the resources to conduct my research, NIU Shop Services for fulfilling all of my custom parts requests, and finally, but of equal importance, my family for their ever present support throughout my academic endeavors.

Although there is slight feeling of sorrow at seeing my journey come to end, I know that the Summer Scholars program is only the beginning of many great things to come; my opportunity to present my research at a national conference as well as a recent request to continue my research over the summer working with the Italian Muon g-2 team serving as two excellent examples. These opportunities and many others will allow me to continue my intellectual pursuits and I am confident that my involvement at Northern Illinois University, as well as my contributions to the field of high energy particle physics, is far from over.

Overcoming Challenges

By far the most challenging portion of my research centered on the troubleshooting of the straw tube tension test. Before delving into the difficulties in running this portion of the experiment, along with the techniques that I eventually used to overcome these hardships, it is best that I share some of the physics background regarding what exactly I was trying to accomplish.PastedGraphic-5

Technical details aside, the primary purpose of this portion of my research was to design a non-contact setup that would register the tension in one of the straw tubes used in the muon g-2 drift chamber. Considering that the tension could not be measured by a simple force meter once the straws were glued into a place, a process was devised in which a straw was made to vibrate inside of a magnetic field with a loudspeaker and the resulting generated EMF signal digitized by an oscilloscope, thus providing the necessary information to measure the tension.

While the aforementioned process seemed pretty simple on paper, things began to break down during the phase of data collection (i.e. I wasn’t getting a noticeable signal). This issue was fairly serious considering that without any worthwhile data, I would effectively have nothing to show for my entire summer of research.  Increasing the gravity of the issue, the lack of signal from my electrical circuit made diagnosing the problem even more troublesome (dead circuit aside, the possible causes for error were many).  Finally, making the task seemingly impossible, the lack of a lab manual or previous research to cross-check my setup made things all the more difficult.

Now, considering that this is a blog entry and not a short novel on my many failed attempts to getting my experiment to work, I will skip over the trial and error portion of this story and state that I eventually got the signal and data that I was looking for. None of this, however, would have been possible without the trouble shooting lessons that I picked up along the way.

First, and foremost, speaking to my peers and seeking help from my adviser were instrumental in diagnosing the problem. Although I used to think that working alone was something to be lauded, I quickly learned that in the laboratory setting it is very ineffective.  Receiving a different outlook on a problem can be very rewarding even if it doesn’t yield an answer right away as it helps to mitigate the tunnel vision effect that can occur when working alone.PastedGraphic-3

The next troubleshooting practice was more of a lesson in hindsight, but nevertheless a good practice when performing an experiment. When going through the possible causes of your problem it is always helpful to have duplicate parts to check for component malfunctions. As it turned out, the one part of my setup that I did not have a duplicate of (a signal amplifier) had burned an internal battery and was not working properly. Had I acted with a bit more diligence and built my own amplifier (I had the spare parts to do so), as opposed to relying on the fact that the amplifier was working before, the defect in my setup would have been diagnosed much quicker.

Finally, this ordeal further convinced me to the importance of taking proper lab notes. Maintaining a good record of one’s procedure is not only a good organizational tool to conducting an experiment, but also an excellent method of giving insight to other contributing members of the project.

My Connection to the Muon g-2 Experiment

photoAs a student pursuing a degree in physics, the decision to involve myself in the Muon g-2 Experiment was driven by several key factors. Among these components that connected me to my research, the aspiration of attending graduate school was definitely a motivating factor. Given that a certain level of research experience is required to even be considered as a suitable candidate for an RA position, it was almost an obligation, rather than a choice, that I would seek to obtain some form of undergraduate research. In this sense, the invaluable opportunity provided to me by the Summer Scholars in the g-2 Experiment was a chance I could simply not pass up on as it would serve as an excellent introduction to the world of particle physics and allow me to increase my odds of becoming a future research candidate.g-2A (2)

Another reason why the g-2 project caught my eye was because of its connection to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Having lived in Kane County for the majority of my life, I had always been drawn to the allure of Fermilab due to its reputation as one of the leading particle physics research facilities in United States. Having gone on tours of the Tevatron (particle accelerator) and attended Saturday Morning Physics seminars as a high school student, I had long held the fantasy of one day walking through the revolving doors of Wilson Hall not as a visitor, but as a collaborating physicist. Thus, by committing myself to the Muon g-2 Experiment I understood that I would be one step closer to someday achieving this goal.

Finally, and perhaps the fundamental connection to why I chose to work on the g-2 project, was my desire to finally test my physics knowledge that I had gained in the classroom and apply it to real world situations. Although my laboratory classes at NIU had given me a glimpse of what research might be like, I had always wondered as to how things would change when dealing with experiments that were at the leading edge of scientific discovery. The Muon g-2 Experiment will grant me the unique opportunity to test this knowledge and gain even more insight from highly qualified scientists and professors. I can only hope to take full advantage of this amazing opportunity as I am positive that it will shape the outcome of my future career.

My Faculty Adviser

Having a great deal of involvement in both the NIU physics community and at Fermilab, it was only logical that assistant professor Dr. Eads serve as my faculty mentor for my summer research. A former NIU alumnus, Dr. Eads detectorcontributed to the DØ experiment at Fermilab and continued his work at FNAL by serving as the current NIU group leader for the Muon g-2 Experiment. His strong connection to the g-2 project granted me access to a myriad of resources exclusively available at Fermilab including the ability to attend g-2 meetings and seminars. As a pupil of Dr. Eads I was also able to collaborate with other FNAL physicists, NIU graduate students and NIU professors committed to the g-2 cause. While there are other NIU professors who also conduct research at Fermilab, Dr. Eads’ direct connection to the g-2 project, outstanding achievement in the field of particle physics and overall willingness to take me as his student made him the ideal adviser.

Apart from being very knowledgeable on the topic of particle physics research, Dr. Eads’ strong background in secondary science education also proved invaluable. The advantages of having an equally skilled scientist and teacher as a mentor immediately became apparent as Dr. Eads’ excellent debriefings on the g-2 project allowed me to quickly become integrated into the task at hand (an overwhelming endeavor considering my limited experience in particle physics research). Whether it was working in the lab or reading articles pertaining to the experiment, Dr. Eads was always available if I was in need of assistance. Professor Eads’ attributes as a patient instructor, attentive listener and strong motivator made my transition from physics student to aspiring physicist a pleasant journey and I find it difficult to fathom a better suited instructor. Having completed the summer portion of my involvement in the Muon g-2 Experiment, I cannot state my excitement to working another two semesters under the guidance of Dr. Eads.

The Muon G-2 Experiment

Muon-10-ringLeading the nation in advanced particle physics research, it is only natural that the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory will be conducting the Muon g-2 Experiment as their next major undertaking. Before delving into my proposed involvement of such a world-class venture, I believe that it would be best to share a bit of my knowledge regarding the details of the experiment itself.
Picking up were Brookhaven Laboratory left off, the goal of the g-2 experiment is to re-measure the g-factor (gyromagnetic factor or spin) of a muon (subatomic particle similar to an electron but much heavier), except to a greater level of precision. The reason for this is that the previous results from the Brookhaven investigation revealed that the experimental value of the muon’s g-factor differed from the theoretical value by 3σ (standard deviations). Such an outcome caused a great deal of excitement among the physics community as it proposed that the fluctuations in the muon’s spin could be caused by other, yet to be discovered, subatomic particles. If all goes to plan, Fermilab’s efforts will either debunk the previous findings as an erroneous anomaly, or will provide the 5σ necessary to confirm a scientific discovery, thus opening a myriad of questions regarding our understanding of the esoteric universe that surrounds us.
My Summer Scholars Capstone would contribute to the Muon g-2 Experiment by having me independently create and analyze a straw-tube test module that would serve as the primary design for the detector used at Fermilab. Preoccupying myself in the construction stage, I would work with materials provided by Fermilab to optimize several components of the detector. The first aspect would require me to familiarize myself with a single straw-tube (gas filled mylar tube with a sensitive filament inside) and carefully inspect its components. After studying the construction of a single detector tube, I would then proceed to designing a mass production assembly line that would provide the tubes for the g-2 experiment. Upon the completion of this task, that could take anywhere from three to four weeks, I would then continue on to building a scale model of the detector and run several tests focusing on the optimization of data collection. This part of the experiment would preoccupy the majority of my time as testing various straw-tube layouts, working with advanced computer simulation programs, analyzing gathered data, speaking at public events concerning the Muon g-2 event, as well as attending informational seminars at Fermilab will provide with an excellent opportunity to immerse myself in the high energy particle physics scene taking place at NIU, Fermilab, and the worldwide physics community.