This is a photo of me in the 27-kilometer long tunnel that contains the Large Hadron Collider, while I was hosting a tour for the U.S. ambassador to Swizterland in June 2014. I like this photo a lot because I very rarely am in the tunnel, or wear a hard hat, or wear a jacket and tie for work, or hang out with ambassadors!
I am an experimental particle physicist, with interests in top-quark physics, weak interactions, and the Higgs boson. I've done research in particle physics for more than twenty five years, ever since I was a college student, and I have to say that this might be the most exciting time in my career to date and possibly for the rest of it, too. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland started operations in 2009, colliding protons at energies a factor of 3.5 higher than we've ever achieved previously with a particle accelerator. I and other physicsts at UNL work on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) at the LHC. In 2012, we observed a new particle, which as far as we can tell is the long-awaited Higgs boson, the last missing particle of the standard model of particle physics. As a field, we spent fifty years looking for it! Currently I'm working with a UNL graduate student (Dan Knowlton) and several other physicists on the experiment on a search for anomalous production of the Higgs boson in association with single top quarks. The Higgs discovery is great news, but we also expected to see other new particles by now, and we haven't. That's a problem for a lot of proposed models of particle interactions. In Spring 2015 we will finish a two-year downtime that will allow a doubling of the collision energy, which should give us access to heavier particles, and perhaps more discoveries.
Besides the physics of the experiment, I'm also involved in computing issues. CMS produces petabytes of data each year, and it has to be processed, stored, transferred and analyzed. At UNL, we host a so-called "Tier-2" computing center for CMS, where we host data that collaborators from all over the world analyze, and also run the simulations that help us understand what new phenomena might look like. I interact closely with our colleagues at the Holland Computing Center who look after the day-to-day operations of the computers. There are six other sites like ours in the US (at Caltech, Florida, MIT, Purdue, UC San Diego and Wisconsin), and about fifty of them around the world. I'm the project manager for the US sites and co-coordinator for all CMS Tier-2 sites. I am also the deputy manager of software and computing for the US CMS Operations Program, where I help oversee the $18M annual budget for US CMS computing facilities and support personnel. From there, I've branched out into some other interesting problems in data-intensive high-throughput computing, such as the NSF-funded "Any Data, Anytime, Anywhere" project that seeks to make data access over the wide-area network transparent and reliable for users, and the DASPOS project that is studying the best ways to preserve particle-physics data for future analysis long after experiments have completed their operations.
I'm also the lead principal investigator for the NSF grant that supports the work of the five UNL particle physics faculty members and our students and postdocs.
In Fall 2014 I am teaching Physics 441, the advanced laboratory course for physics majors. This is one of the few places in the undergraduate curriculum where students have to really grapple with the realities of experimental physics: how to deal with a piece of apparatus that might not love you every day, how to make sense out of ambiguous data, and how to communicate results to colleagues in a meaningful way. These are all things that I contend with daily as an experimental scientist, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to share this often frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience with students.
I'm also the master of ceremonies for Physics 201, a seminar course aimed at students who are new to the major.
In the past I've taught Physics 212 (introductory electromagnetism for engineers), Physics 311 (intermediate-level classical mechanics for majors), Physics 462 (atomic, nuclear and particle physics for majors) and Physics 926 (graduate-level particle physics).
I am the Chief Undergraduate Adviser for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and also chair of the department's Undergraduate Committee. This makes me the first point of contact with students for undergraduate academic issues. Our committee oversees advising of physics majors, recruiting, scholarships and the Society of Physics Students chapter. Intereseted in majoring in physics? Ask me how!
In the past I have been chair of the UNL Research Council, and a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Committee on Student Academic Distinction, Awards, and Appeals. In Fall 2014 I will be helping revive the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
More about me:
I grew up in South Orange, NJ, and at the time never dreamed that I would live in Nebraska someday. I hold a AB in Physics from The University of Chicago (1992), and an MS (1995) and PhD (1997) in Physics from Cornell University. I was a postdoctoral researcher at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan before coming to UNL in 2004 as an Assistant Professor; I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2009. I was on a faculty development leave for the 2013-14 academic year, and I spent my time in residence at CERN. I worked on the CDF experiment at Fermilab in 1989-92 and 1997-2004, the CLEO experiment at Cornell in 1992-97, and the D0 experiment at Fermilab from 2004 until we tire of looking at the data (estimated 2014 or 2015). I am the previous recipient of an NSF Early Career Development Award. I find my job as a university professor to be utterly exhausting but also continually fascinating, and I am very glad to have this opportunity to pursue a wide range of interests.