MCLA Professor Emily Maher and Student Work on Worldwide Scientific Collaboration
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. - For the third consecutive summer, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) physics professor Emily Maher traveled to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois to be part of the MINERva (Main Injector Neutrino ExperRiment v-A), where hundreds of scientists and researchers from colleges and universities across the county and around the globe are studying the neutrino, a fundamental particle.
At Fermilab, the scientists monitor a detector, which is located 100 meters underground and is completely controlled by computers. Every institution involved with MINERvA is required to complete a certain number of shifts monitoring the detector, which houses a neutrino beam.
This summer, Maher took physics major Max Eve '12, of Amherst, Mass., with her to Fermilab. He is one of just a small handful of undergraduate students to participate in the work being done there.
She and Eve are looking specifically at a particular type of neutrino interaction which produces another fundamental particle called a "pion."
Very little is understood about pions, which are produced when a neutrino interacts with a proton or a neutron. Maher and Eve are writing codes on the computer to examine such events and to select the ones they are interested in studying.
"MINERvA is getting the most data on these interactions that anybody has ever done in the entire history of particle physics," Maher said. "We're going to have a lot of data to study these kinds of events in detail. The key is that we have to pick out those specific types of events out of all of these other types of events. It is very difficult. We're working on this method of deciding what these types of events look like in our data and how to pick them out of millions of events that occur each week."
The experience allowed Eve to see firsthand how research is conducted.
"It's not studying formulas and working problems. It's actually coming up with ways to do things that nobody's ever done before. If you get stuck, you can't just go ask somebody. You have to really think about it and figure it out yourself," Maher said.
According to Eve, "It was an amazing opportunity just to go to Fermilab and be surrounded by brilliant people who have a passion for something that I'm interested in. It really gave me an opportunity to see where physics can take me. This was my first exposure to what it means to be a physicist and what I have to look forward to."
During their stay at Fermilab - from May 18 to June 15 - Eve lived on the laboratory's campus, which provided him the opportunity to live with international students in various stages of their education.
Back at MCLA, Maher and Eve are busy sorting and analyzing the "massive" amount of data they collected from now fully completed detector.
"It's very exciting," Maher said.