Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Summer 2015

Vanderbilt University
Physics & Astronomy

Research Projects: Particle (LHC) and High-Energy Nuclear (RHIC and LHC) Physics

Study of the Charm and Beauty Quarks
(Profs. Medford Webster, Paul Sheldon, Will Johns)

This elementary particle physics (EPP) research group is investigating fundamental questions about the structure and behaviour of the universe. Their work provides information about the weak and strong forces (counterparts to gravity and electromagnetism) and offers sensitive probes for new fundamental phenomena. They are major contributors to two active experiments: the FOCUS experiment at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), near Chicago, Illinois, and the CMS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The CMS experiment will operate at the highest energies ever achieved for particle collisions. They hope to find new and exotic states of matter that shed light on the physics described above. The FOCUS experiment has finished data taking; the group is still producing interesting results on properties of particles containing a charm quark. Undergraduates in the group have performed published work on charm decays from FOCUS, worked on detector development, and participated in large scale computing projects. An REU student could be expected to participate on FOCUS or perform physics simulations for CMS.

Relativistic Heavy Ion Collisions
(Profs. Julia Velkovska, S. Victoria Greene, Charles Maguire)

Properties of nuclear matter at extreme temperatures and energy densities are being investigated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Recent discoveries at RHIC show that the matter produced in high energy collisions of heavy ions exhibits interesting collective behavior. Contrary to expectations, the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) produced at RHIC does not behave like a gas of non-interacting quarks and gluons, but rather - a liquid with very low viscosity. Studying the properties of QGP is crucial for understanding the state of matter at the beginning of the Universe. An important aspect of these studies is the investigation of the particle production mechanisms, their collective flow and the correlations between them. Experimentally, it is important to identify the particles coming out of the collisions and to study the flow as a function of the particle mass and momentum. The relativistic heavy ion group at Vanderbilt has been involved in an upgrade of the PHENIX detector that greatly enhanced the particle identification capabilities at high momentum. The students may get involved in analyzing identified particle data from a recent RHIC run. The next stage in the study of the QGP will commence with the first heavy ion beam at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Laboratory for Nuclear Research (CERN), Switzerland. Our group is involved in the CMS experiment with major responsibilities for data quality monitoring, offline computing, and we are leading the physics analysis of collective flow. The students will be involved in data quality monitoring at the Vanderbilt data center featuring live connection to CERN.

Neutrino Oscillations
(Prof. David Ernst)

The phenomenon of neutrino oscillations has been established by a number of experiments. This phenomenon is the only existing experimentally measured physics that lies outside the standard model of particle physics. A model of the essential physics contained in each existing experiment has been developed and used to analyze the world's data. Since the underlying physics is that of a three state quantum mechanical system, an undergraduate student can readily learn the necessary mathematical ingredients. Projects for future work could include adding a future experiment to the model and investigating the implications of possible results, or improving on the model of one of the existing experiments, or calibrating the model results against a full analysis code which is being developed, or producing a video which depicts in a visually dramatic way the oscillation of the neutrinos as they occur in each of the experiments, or assisting in the writing of an article for the American Journal of Physics which would present neutrino oscillations at a level accessible to the undergraduate physics major.

 

 

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Vanderbilt Physics and Astronomy

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Program details:

  • Ten weeks
  • Stipend $3,600
  • Travel, housing, meals provided

Early application deadline:
February 15

Final application deadline:
March 15

Program dates:
May 25 - Aug 1