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Your background?

In a lot of ways, Sarvagya Sharma is just like any other guy at ACU. He hangs out with friends, eats at the Bean, plays computer games in his spare time. He has to study for tests and go to class just like everyone else. But in one way, he’s different from many of the students who surround him.

When he goes home for the holidays, he’s going halfway around the world.

Sarvagya grew up in New Delhi, India, with a love for science and a thirst for adventure. As a kid, he devoured science fiction; in high school, when faced with the choice of what subject to specialize in for his last two years, he picked physics.

“I’ve been interested in physics for as long as I can remember,” he said.

Fortunately, he had a good teacher, someone who challenged and inspired him. And although the learning style was more theory-oriented than hands-on application, he was still hooked.

“The teacher sparked an interest in me,” he said.

Where did you study?

I studied in India, majoring in Physics and Maths.

When it came time to choose a school, Sarvagya thought of his next-door neighbor, whose father taught at ACU years ago. The neighbor had told him about the university and, knowing that the physics department had an international reputation for academic excellence, Sarvagya decided to apply.

He’s glad he did. He likes the university as a whole and particularly his department. After years of theory-based learning, he enjoys getting to use what he’s learned in a lab setting. He’s impressed by his professors’ knowledge and their desire to see students learn.

“They really seem excited about what they’re doing,” he said.

Although Sarvagya chose ACU for its academic credentials, he’s interested in the atmosphere of faith that surrounds the university. He says there’s much more emphasis on religion here than in India, but that fact falls within the purview of his expectations.

“I knew it was going to be a spiritual place,” he said.

One of his favorite things about ACU is the people – they’re friendly, welcoming and open to new faces. He’s already made a group of good friends who share his interests. And the thing he misses most? Authentic Indian food, he says. There just isn’t any in Abilene – he has to drive to Dallas or Houston to satisfy the craving. He tries to go home every six months or so – with a home-cooked meal waiting for him at the other end of the journey.

Can you tell us about your research?

Last summer, though, Sarvagya wasn’t home in India. He spent the break at Los Alamos National Laboratory, along with two other ACU students. They were all part of a project known as NIFFTE, which stands for Neutron Induced Fission Fragment Tracking Experiment. Around the world, nuclear reactors are not as safe or as efficient as they could be. NIFFTE seeks to find ways to make them more, he explained.

One of the most important components of the project is a computer simulation of the time projection chamber (TPC), a machine that tracks the paths of fission fragments that are produced by the neutron induced fission of a nucleus. Building a real life TPC is very expensive, particularly when multiple unknown factors might affect its performance. Researchers in the NIFFTE collaboration are therefore working on a virtual model that allows them to test the design and observe it via a computer screen before the real detector is built.

Sarvagya Sharma was involved in this section of the project, taking data from the computerized TCP and analyzing it. His computer code tracks the fragments’ movement through a series of electronic cells and gets information about what cells receive fragments. He wants to know two things: how many tracks the fragments create and how to find the closest possible line going through all the nuclear fragments.

A complex experiment that may sound complicated or impossibly complex. But Sarvagya has no problems with it.

“I did the fun stuff,” he said.

He worked alongside Tyler Thornton, who was also working on designing the computerized simulation. Tyler, who was working on data simulation, made adjustments to better simulate live data; he also worked to include “noise,” or interference from external factors in the model. In an effort to simulate more realistic data, he tried to give a more accurate description of what actually happens in a time projection chamber.

The goal for this section of the project is to integrate software and hardware so that researchers can take measurements from labs across the country and be able to access them from any given location. This part of the project is the first step to the real data. The hardware can be used for troubleshooting problems in the experiment, as well as finding strange things happening in the lab where the TPC will be kept.

Sarvagya believes the project will help ordinary people become more comfortable with the idea of using nuclear energy. As global warming becomes a more urgent problem, he sees nuclear energy as the best alternative to current energy sources. More practical than solar or wind energy and already used for 20% of the United States’ energy needs, nuclear energy has the potential of completely revitalizing the way the world works. Even nuclear waste could cease to be a problem if it were appropriately recycled, he says.

Global researcher opportunities?

The ACU students also met new friends at the lab, researchers who have been working on projects like this for years. There were researchers from all over the United States and others from foreign countries. Working on writing computer programming for the project, Sarvagya got to meet several of them and learn from their expertise. He’s already looking forward to going back this summer.

“It was a good learning experience,” he said.

At ACU, Sarvagya is involved with another sort of project, one known as Team55, which provides computer support services for the university. He has worked there for about a year. As a computational physics major, he is good at dealing with computers and their many problems. In fact, he’s thinking of getting a minor in computer science.

Sarvagya hasn’t decided what he wants to do with his degree once he graduates from ACU. He’ll probably go to graduate school, looking for a master’s or a doctorate in a physics-related field. He is interested in doing research. He’s also considering  architecture or engineering, two of his other interests.

But whatever he chooses to do, Sarvagya knows that he’s got roots in a small city in West Texas, at a university where heart matters as much as brains and friends are waiting just around the corner. It’s a long way from home, but ultimately worth the journey. Or you could just sum it up in his own words.

“It’s a nice place.”